Many soccer players aspire to represent their country on the national stage.
Jaelin Williams, who grew up in Glynn County, will see that dream become reality next month, in a unique way.
Williams, a 2016 Brunswick High School graduate, has been named to the Bahamas men’s national soccer team for the inaugural tournament of the Concacaf Nations League, which encompasses 41 nations and protectorates in North America, Central America and the Caribbean.
“It’s a good opportunity for me to see what the highest level is like, and to also get to represent my country,” he said. “One of the great honors for a soccer player is to be able to represent your country.”
Williams has been named to the roster for the first tournament game in Belize on Sept. 7. His mother, Altansas Williams, is from the Bahamas. Jaelin has a dual citizenship.
He was one of about 40 players invited to participate in a 10-week tryout for the Bahamas national team over the summer. The team announced this week the 18 players who will make up the team’s roster.
Williams, a full-time student and business major at Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., will fly down to join the team Sept. 4.
At Fisk University, he serves as the captain of the college’s soccer team.
“Our season’s about to start, so it’s a little rough, but it’s feasible,” he said. “It also gives me the chance to train while I’m here, instead of being lazy.”
Lazy isn’t his style. Williams grew up playing soccer, and he’s worked hard to get where he is today, said Shawn Williams, his father.
“You always, as a parent, want to see your kids work hard for the things that they’ve set goals for, to see them accomplish those things,” Shawn Williams said. “… You don’t want them to be disappointed in the situation, but you’re excited that your child has found something he really enjoys and he’s willing to dedicate himself to.”
Jaelin has been playing soccer for 17 years. He played both for Glynn Academy and Brunswick High. He also played club soccer for Coastal Outreach Soccer, a local after-school youth program his father founded that targets players ages 4-18 from under-served neighborhoods. The program also provides its players with academic mentoring and support.
Coastal Outreach Soccer exposed Jaelin and many other players to the sort of opportunities that become available through hard work, Shawn Williams said.
“We’re wanting to get other children in our community to be able to understand that the opportunities are available for them, by their commitment to something, and that’s what it’s about,” he said.
Shawn Williams thanked the community for its support of the program, which has recorded a 100 percent graduation rate for all its seniors since 2014.
“We are so thankful to our community for supporting our club,” Shawn Williams said.
Jaelin was invited to participate in the Bahamian tryout this summer by a coach with whom he’d previously worked during a tryout for the World Cup qualifiers.
“The coach called me and asked if I wanted to join to participate again in the tryout, since he already had my contact information from the earlier tryout a couple of years ago,” Jaelin said. “He knew I was still a developing player back then, and he figured I would be a better fit for the team now.”
The tryout was intense, he said. The players practiced together for more than two months. Practice sessions began during sunrise and ended during sunset every day.
“It was hot,” he said. “And it was hard, but it all paid out in the end.”
Shawn Williams said he’s felt immense pride as he’s watched his son fully commit to the sport and work hard to achieve his goals.
“All youth, college and professional soccer players dream and work to one day represent his/her national team,” Shawn Williams said. “Playing for one’s country is this greatest honor for an athlete because very few people in the world are given that opportunity.”