The education of Collin Martin begins each morning at RFK Stadium’s training grounds, repetitive instruction on how to become a better soccer player. A month shy of 19, his fresh face and slender physique exude a high school vibe. In truth, he is a salaried pro, D.C. United’s second-youngest employee in shorts and a player who the team hopes will feature regularly in the lineup in the coming years.
After one year at Wake Forest, Martin withdrew this summer to sign a low-scale contract with the MLS team he grew up watching. But the education of Collin Martin continues in the classroom. Some six weeks after turning pro, Martin enrolled in two courses at George Washington University.
Three days a week after practice, Martin strolls to the Stadium-Armory Metro station and hops the Blue or Orange Line for the 11-stop, 18-minute, $2.05 ride to Foggy Bottom.
“It’s a long day,” the Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School graduate said, “but I like to keep my mind active.”
On Mondays and Wednesdays, he attends an American history class late in the afternoon and astronomy early in the evening. Tuesdays are for a history discussion seminar.
Afterward, he climbs back onto the subway and rides to Friendship Heights, near his family’s home in Chevy Chase. When the weather cooperates, he rides his bike to and from the station. Otherwise, his mother Roberta provides transportation. (He avoids driving and parking in the city.)
It’s a different life than the one he left behind at Wake Forest.
“I was on campus all the time, living in the dorms, taking five classes,” he said. “Now, I feel like I don’t have much to relate with the other kids. I am trying to meet people and build relationships, but I’m not around much.”
The midfielder is not the only United player in school. Rookie forward Michael Seaton, 17, works with a tutor toward a GED after withdrawing from Central High in Prince George’s County last winter. Conor Shanosky, a 21-year-old defender who turned pro after graduating from Potomac Falls High, takes classes through Northern Virginia Community College.
Rookie defender Taylor Kemp is close to finishing his business degree at Maryland after serving four years for the Terrapins. Veteran defender Daniel Woolard is enrolled in two online courses toward completing an applied arts and sciences degree at Midwestern State, the Texas school where he played.
But Martin’s uniqueness stems from his family’s academic credentials and the crossroads he has encountered.
His father, Gerard, is a pediatric cardiologist at Children’s National Medical Center and professor at GW medical school. His mother is a pastoral counselor. Sister Erin is becoming an obstetrical anesthesiologist. Sister Bethany is a foundation officer at her father’s hospital. Brother Trevor teaches and coaches. (Another brother, Tyler, is a B-CC junior.)
On Collin taking an alternative path, Gerard Martin said: “Collin has always been presented with different opportunities, all of them amazing. They made us think in non-traditional ways. He looked at it this way: ‘I will still be smart when I am 20.’ Soccer is the dream, and in the end, he will get a degree.”
Collin’s non-traditional opportunities began at age 12, when he moved to Ohio by himself to train at a soccer academy owned by longtime U.S. goalkeeper Brad Friedel. In order to attend middle school, he was legally adopted by an Ohio woman. He stayed for 11 / 2 years. (The academy went under during the economic crisis.)
At B-CC, with an eye on accelerating his soccer options, Martin sped up his course work in order to graduate a year early. Major NCAA programs coveted his attacking skills. United envisioned signing him to a homegrown contract in the coming years. Hoffenheim, a German Bundesliga club, offered a place in the youth program.
“For my career, I needed to get out of high school,” said Martin, a first-team All-Met at B-CC who also played for United’s youth academy teams. “I wasn’t going to advance myself in soccer by staying.”
He chose Wake Forest. In his lone season last fall, he appeared in all 20 matches and had a team-high six assists. He also earned all-ACC academic honors.
This summer, United made its pitch.
“His parents were on board, he was on board, we were on board, the academy coaches said he was ready,” United Coach Ben Olsen said of Martin, who, while in high school, appeared in D.C. reserve matches with players from the senior roster.
United’s league-worst record this year has afforded playing opportunities for prospects who otherwise would not enter regular season matches. Martin has made four appearances (two starts) and contributed an assist. He also started one game for the Richmond Kickers, United’s third-division affiliate.
With the early introduction to the pro game, “he is that much further ahead,” Olsen said, “and he is that much closer to playing for us [regularly] in the future.”
Martin’s future also includes academics.
“I knew I wanted to continue school, but I wasn’t firm on starting this fall,” said Martin, who pays reduced tuition because of his father’s affiliation to GW. His parents “wanted me to start right away. They have high educational values for me.”
With career demands, Martin does not plan to take more than two classes per semester. Regardless of his career path, he hopes to remain on track to earn a degree — his early interest is journalism — within “five, six, eight years,” he said.
MLS’s modest pay scale plays into some players’ educational decisions. Martin’s base salary this season is $35,000. With guaranteed bonuses, the figure rises to $50,000. The league’s average pay is $150,000; the median is $75,000. In other words, for those who don’t land a hefty MLS contract or a European payday, the importance of a college degree increases.
Although Martin has settled into a new routine, his former life tugs at him.
“I do miss it,” he said. “I wish I could have the college experience again, but at the same time, I wouldn’t change anything because the experience I am having now is a whole ’nother thing that a lot of people can’t have. It’s been awesome.”