Jonty Bilderbeck is looking forward to a Florida Christmas.
The Whitby 14-year-old has had a busy year of football, turning out for Western Suburbs, the Wellington federation side and Wellington Tornadoes. He leaves next month with the latter on an intensive tour of the USA, playing up to 20 games from Orlando to Los Angeles.
It's a huge opportunity to be spotted by universities and professional clubs in the US, and, after never travelling further than Australia before, Bilderbeck can't wait to get on the plane.
''I know it's going to be a great experience, seeing what other types of football is like, playing the LA Galaxy's academy team will just be awesome. We'll go to school for a day and are billeted out in LA, so we'll get some real insights.''
He expects the skill level and physicality to be high but the striker can't wait to test himself against elite players.
Bilderbeck leaves with his family on December 14 but will hook up with the Tornadoes in Orlando, Florida, on Christmas Eve. The biggest headache is fitting everything he needs into one sports bag.
There's not an evening or weekend that goes by without something to do with football for the teenager. And each team he turns out for has him playing a different position - up front for the Tornadoes, in centre midfield for Wests and a defender for his federation team.
''I like playing in different parts of the pitch. I want to score goals but when you're at the back you've got the whole field in front of you to make runs and be a playmaker.''
Bilderbeck is in Year 10 at St Pat's Silverstream and will play football for his school and Wests' under-17 team next year. Along with performing well for those sides, his chief aim for 2013 is to win selection into Wellington's National Talent Centre, with one eye on the 2015 Under 17 World Cup in Chile.
If a career in the game doesn't pan out, he hopes to still be connected through a vocation like physiotherapy.
WHO ARE THE TORNADOES?
The Wellington Tornadoes is a not-for-profit football programme that has been running for five years, with trials held for 12-16 year olds each year.
Each intake is involved for eight months, culminating in a US trip to play matches and be introduced to the US college football system. This year they will play in tournaments in the Disney Showcase in Florida and Vegas Cup in Nevada, the only international team to do so, along with friendlies from Texas to LA.
Head coach Guy Smith says the Tornadoes are about ''elite football and amazing experiences ... we try to inspire players to keep improving through to the end of high school and show them what's on offer in America.''
Parents normally cover costs, although limited corporate sponsorship and grant funding does help.
Tornadoes 6 will be for players born in 1998/99 and trials are next July. Visit www.tornadosoccer.com
- Kapi-Mana News