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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | Eric Sondheimer

Soccer Standout Casey Schmidt Envisions Career in Foreign Service

October 22, 2000|Eric Sondheimer

Casey Schmidt is destined to travel around the world, whether it be as a professional soccer player or foreign diplomat.

He's 19 and in the midst of a never-ending adventure. Rarely does he let a day pass without challenging his mind or stirring his soul.

For a teenager who grew up in Newbury Park and lived a simple life of surfing, playing soccer and hanging out with friends, Schmidt is transforming himself into a worldly young man determined to make a difference on and off the field.

As a sophomore forward at Boston College, he has become one of the best soccer players on the East Coast. He leads the Eagles with seven goals and two assists. Twice this season, he has been selected the Big East Conference offensive player of the week.

But Schmidt's growth away from sports is far more intriguing. After soccer, he wants to be involved in foreign service.

"That's my passion--talking with people, straightening things out and making sure everyone has happiness in their life," he said.

Who is more qualified to solve world disputes than someone who has never received a red card in 13 years of playing soccer?

He's a political science major who can talk passionately about sports or political affairs. When his eight roommates are watching ESPN on the big-screen television in their apartment, Schmidt is frequently banished to another room so he can view CNN and find out what world crisis Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is working on.

He has interned for a Boston think tank, the Institute for Defense and Disarmament Studies. He plans to take Russian next semester and study Eastern Europe.

He wants to travel to Washington D.C. and see foreign embassies. He reads the Boston Globe and New York Times, and not just the sports pages. His goal is to attend the Monterey Institute of International Studies in Northern California.

On weekends, he goes to downtown Boston, joining hundreds of other college students walking the Freedom Trail, exploring the happenings around Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall, observing, listening and meeting new people.

"It's so different than back home," he said. "There's so much to do as opposed to the beach every day. It's so cool. I really can't believe how much I've changed being in school 3,000 miles away from home facing all these challenges."

He left behind family and friends, not to mention the sun.

"I love to be in shorts, a T-shirt and sandals all the time," he said. "You can't really do that with two feet of snow outside."

But what California surfer boy would pass up the chance to surf while it snows? That's what Schmidt encountered last February in New Hampshire.

"That was a very unique experience," he said. "It was very, very weird."

This summer, Schmidt spent a month living in Brazil and training with a professional soccer team. He tried out his Portuguese and worked on his diplomacy.

"It was the most amazing experience," he said. "There are so many good and bad experiences traveling alone. You learn a lot about yourself. I ran into some trouble because of a language barrier and cultural barrier. I had to find ways to get out of conflicts using other people."

In one incident, Schmidt was confronted by a gang member who pulled a knife.

"They assumed I had a lot of money and attempted to rob me," he said. "I didn't know what he was saying and there was a restaurant across the street. He made a gesture to stab me, dropped the knife and I ran into the restaurant."

Then there was the time he got lost in Brazil after being given wrong directions and taking the wrong bus. He had only $5 and there were no ATMs in sight. What's a future American diplomat to do?

Negotiate, of course.

"I had to negotiate to let the bus drivers let me get on the bus," he said.

He ended up with 55 cents in his pocket but made it home, safe and secure. It was another test that will prepare him for the future.

He has not reached his limit in soccer. He was the No. 1 forward in the region his senior year at Newbury Park High in 1999. As a freshman at Boston College, he was named to the Big East all-rookie team after scoring 11 goals. He's a member of the under-20 U.S. national team pool.

"It's definitely my ultimate passion," he said. "I want to play professional soccer more than anything. I'm working so hard and I know I have the ability to do it."

Life's experiences continue to pull Schmidt in many directions.

"He's always been that way since he was a little kid playing in the backyard full of energy," said his father, Jim, a professor at Cal Lutheran.

At 5, Casey was given a plot of land in the backyard by his father.

"This is your land and you can build anything you want," Jim told him.

Soon, Casey had a pick, shovel, wheelbarrow and was creating his own little world.

"I have a very adventurous personality," he said. "There's always so much I want to accomplish and experience."

*

Eric Sondheimer's column appears Wednesday and Sunday. He can be reached at (818) 772-3422 or eric.sondheimer@latimes.com.

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