After having integral varsity roles as freshmen for the Shawnee boys' soccer team, defender Ryan Talbot and midfielder Tyler Skwara decided to switch teams but not schools.
The two Medford residents, now seniors, were selected to play for the Philadelphia Union Academy Team after tryouts. Their selection meant a nearly year-round commitment to the sport, consisting of a long commute each weekday from Medford to YSC Academy in Wayne, Pa., where the team practiced.
All the miles in the car and the countless practices were well worth it, according to both players, and their signatures on national letters of intent are their affirmation.
With high school senior soccer players able to sign letters of intent starting Wednesday, Talbot will make it official and sign with the University of South Florida. Skwara will sign with Boston College.
"It was pretty hard and definitely a grind, but I really think that is was well worth it," Talbot said about playing for the Union Academy team.
Each player understood the level of commitment it would take and knew it would be difficult to leave one set of teammates for a new group.
"No doubt it was a tough choice," Skwara said. "Leaving friends is always a hard thing to do, but you want to get to the next level and become a better player and you know you have to take that step."
The players said that they faced some of the top teams in the country during various tournaments, but they thought it was also beneficial each day in practice, where they went up against fellow all-stars.
And while both said it improved them as soccer players, they acknowledged that there is something special about representing your hometown team.
"I missed it, especially this year," Talbot said. "We always said we wanted to play our senior year [at Shawnee], but when it came down to it, we benefited greatly from being here."
The academy team players were also seen by countless colleges, and both said they enjoyed the recruiting process.
Talbot said one visit to South Florida was all he needed to know that it would be the place for him.
"When I went down there, the facilities were great, I liked the coaches, and it seemed like a good school for me," Talbot said. "Of course, the weather didn't hurt."
Skwara didn't have the weather as a factor in choosing Boston College.
"I love the style of play, and they are in a great conference, the ACC, where three of the Final Four [NCAA tournament] teams came from," Skwara said. "It's a place I really wanted to be and feel I can keep improving."
Skwara was referring to Final Four teams Maryland, Virginia, and Notre Dame, the eventual national champion. All competed in the ACC this past season.
Both players said having each other go through the same situation was extremely beneficial.
"Tyler and I have been playing together since we were 9-10 years old, and we have been friends a long time," Talbot said. "It really helped having somebody else to go back and forth with each day."
Added Skwara: "I feel if I had to do it myself it would have been a lot more mentally challenging. It was nice to have somebody to talk to and to share the same experience with."
And now they will share another experience, signing with Division I soccer programs.