Last year was a pretty good one for soccer players Austin Gregg and Ayden Stephenson, Owen High School sophomores. The duo helped the junior varsity Warhorses have a winning season.
Players and passionate fans of the sport, Gregg and Stephenson expect 2018 to be even better than 2017. On Wednesday, Jan. 10, the teammates and close friends will fly to England to tour and train with Premiere League teams Manchester United F.C. and Liverpool F.C. They'll make the trip with Maryville College in Tennessee.
"Soccer in Europe is on a whole different level," Stephenson said. "This trip will give a chance to experience that and learn from it."
Gregg and Stephenson were invited to attend the trip with the NCAA Division III Scots after attending a soccer camp in Maryville last summer.
"I wanted to do something involving soccer over the summer last year," Gregg said. "My grandparents live in Maryville, and we found out there was a camp being held there. I decided I wanted to go and I asked my best friend (Stephenson) to come along."
The camp paid dividends on the field last fall when Gregg led the junior varsity Warhorses, coached by Brad Horrell, in goals scored. Stephenson was recognized as the team's top defender.
Both players credit their success on the field to their Warhorse coaches and teammates. They also recognize that participating in the Maryville camp helped them improve their skills.
"It definitely had an impact on how I approach the game," Gregg said. "That experience helped me grow as a player."
So will the trip to England, Gregg and Stephenson believe.
"To be able to be around these teams and players is exciting," Stephenson said. "Seeing what these players have to do to get to the level they are will show me how hard I need to work to get to where I want to be."
The two friends will tour Old Trafford, which has been home to Manchester United since 1910.
"That's what I'm looking forward to the most," Gregg said. "They have players like Zlatan Ibrahimović, and just the chance to see him play is exciting. There are plenty of other great players on their roster I look forward to seeing as well."
Anfield, located in the district in Liverpool from which its name is derived, has been home to the Liverpool F.C. since 1892. Gregg and Stephenson will get a chance to tour the historic facility when they leave Manchester.
"I feel like this is a chance to learn a lot of new techniques in the sport I love," Stephenson said. "I'm excited to see what I can learn about my potential as a player. And as a fan, it's like a dream come true."