By the time he was through playing, Jay Entlich had accomplished enough to satisfy the ambition of almost any youth soccer dreamer.
A perennial State Cup champion and a star at W.T. Woodson High in the late 1980s, Entlich went on to rewrite the record book at Virginia Tech, where he still holds the mark for most goals in a game (four) and most points in a season (37). After graduating in 1994, Entlich turned down an offer to play professionally indoors and headed to England, where he spent six months training with Middlesbrough Football Club.
Enough for some, but not for Entlich, whose childhood soccer fantasy was a bit out of the ordinary.
"My father was stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia, and I attended a soccer camp, World Cup Soccer Camp, in Atlanta," Entlich recalled. "I came home from camp and I told my Mom I wanted to be a coach. I pretty much knew when I was eight years old that I was going to be a coach."
That summer Entlich ran his own neighborhood soccer camp, charging students 10 cents each for a week of skill work and training. He sold lemonade and baked goods for lunch -- Entlich admits he made more money with concessions than on tuition -- and provided a Pele poster as a souvenir. His family moved to Fairfax when Entlich was in sixth grade, and by the time he was 14 he was working with local coaching fixture John Ellis at the latter's summer camps.
After stops at three colleges, with the U.S. Soccer Federation's coaching schools and with the U.S. women's national team program, Entlich was the surprise choice last month to lead the Women's United Soccer Association champion Carolina Courage, which hosts the Washington Freedom in the April 5 season opener.
The Courage was convinced to give a relatively unknown 31-year old one of the highest-profile jobs in American soccer and the chance to fulfill a dream.
"There's typically two kinds of coaches," said Courage General Manager Scott Travasos. "There's the guys who've been around forever, and haven't had a lot of success but keep getting chances, and then there's the up-and-comer, the [Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach] Jon Gruden, who's just passionate and incredibly hard working. We had heard about Jay from several sources and it just became apparent when we were talking to him that he knew his stuff. We feel we've latched onto a rising star."
After serving as an assistant with the Virginia Tech men's team for two years, Entlich took an assistant's job with the University of Mississippi women in 1998 before landing the head coaching position at the University of Tampa two years later. Through it all he remained in touch with youth soccer through his work with the Olympic Development Program, and was rewarded with a U.S. women's staff position in 2002.
A voracious worker and student of the game, Entlich developed an encyclopedic knowledge of the college and youth player base, a trait that endeared him to a Courage front office eager to stay on top of the unpredictable WUSA. Although lacking a professional track record, Entlich's impressive rise through the coaching ranks, his experience training other coaches, his ability to develop personal relationships with players and eagerness to work with the Research Triangle soccer community -- he still enjoys doing camps with kids -- were crucial components of his application.
"I'm not going to come in and try to change the system, change the way we play, change everything -- they were so successful last year," Entlich said of his new employer. "I've got to acclimate to them and they've got to acclimate to me. It's kind of a healthy situation. I feel like I've put in quite a bit of time and gotten my [coaching] licenses. I've been around great organizations, great teams. Those are some of the reasons I feel comfortable.
"People ask me if I'm nervous, if there's pressure. Of course there's pressure. You've got to just deal with it. It's like any job in the country, like sales or business. You've got to perform if you want to keep your job."
Entlich has former Courage coach Marcia McDermott, now the club's assistant general manager, down the hall as a resource. He also has World Cup veterans like Hege Riise and Carla Overbeck on his roster. Most of all, he has a lifetime of preparation to help guide him through his toughest challenge yet.
"In every job there's a risk. In any job you go into, you've got to earn the players' trust," Entlich said. "But my goal has been to coach at the highest level. In any profession, you should want to get the highest level possible."