HPP stands for High Potential Prospect, but to a couple of young soccer players it also spells excitement.
An invitation to join the Whitecaps FC Upper Island soccer academy was only the first step for the two U11 Port Alberni players with big dreams.
Since then Ryder Hewitt and Mario Pranjic, both 10-year-olds who play on the U11 Silver Stars, have been accepted into the Caps’ HPP program, entering its second year.
The boys are the first young players from the Valley to be tapped for the new program.
“It will help us develop to become good players,” Mario said.
“It opens up, more than anything, a lot of training opportunities and scouting,” said Richard Hewitt, Ryder’s father and an AVYSA coach. Mario’s father, Andy, is also an AVYSA coach.
Both boys and their families returned from Seattle early in the new year after taking part in the first part of the program, a showcase tournament. They couldn’t have hoped for a better outcome — the first team from Canada to win their division, Ryder was told.
The invitation to join the Upper Island academy in 2016 helped fuel the boys’ motivation. They now play organized soccer six days a week on their local U11 teams as well as on the U12 rep team. They regularly attend soccer camps and take part in the AVYSA development program. All that work has paid off: Mario was an academy player of the month in October and Ryder received the same acknowledgement in November.
“They say they’re at the golden age for talent development,” Richard said of the 10-year-olds. Between the ages of nine and 12, players are considered to be at the ideal age for talent development before they mature physically as adolescents.
“I’ve been playing for four years,” said Mario, who attends John Howitt Elementary.
“And I’ve been playing since I was five,” said Ryder, a Maquinna Elementary student.
They were chosen for HPP along with more than 250 participants from a field of thousands of young players across the province.
Whitecaps FC Academy Centres form a provincial network of 20 Whitecaps FC training hubs that provide professional supplemental club training for motivated boys and girls.
“They’ve found that a lot of the big European teams have been doing this for years and getting lots of talent,” said Richard Hewitt. “Players from all parts of B.C. were trying out for it. Ryder and Mario are the only two from the upper Island to have made the team.”
The Port Alberni players were the only ones to be selected from the Upper Island centre.
Both said they’re excited at the chance. Their ultimate goals in the game?
“To be one of the best players,” Ryder said.
“To play in the World Cup,” Mario said, adding that he’d like to play for Team Canada.
Any advice for other young players hoping to become a high potential prospect in the Caps’ program?
“To try your best and play a lot,” Ryder said.
“Never give up on your dream and keep fighting because when it does come true you’ll feel happy,” said Mario, referring to soccer as a “beautiful” game.
Richard Hewitt tips his hat to the AVYSA and its volunteer coaches as well as Whitecap coaches Kevin Lindo, Larry Stefanek and Riley Murray.
More information on the Whitecaps HPP program can be found at their website, www.whitecapsfc.com.