John Stollmeyer had no problems selecting soccer over football, despite the fact the gridiron sport is by far the more glamorous.

"I wasn't taking any chances of getting hurt," said the 5-foot-10, 160-pound Jefferson High School junior. "Football may be the most popular but soccer is tops on my list. The football team wanted me to kick this year but I decided not to. Next year, I might."

Stollmeyer, who said he once loved football, is one of many area athletes who have decided soccer is the sport they want to pursue.

"Fear has nothing to do with it," Stollmeyer said. "A lot of my friends quit football to play soccer. Now, we have some brutes on the soccer team. But like me, they just prefer soccer. It's more relaxing."

Many of the football coaches who were asked about the rapid spread of soccer and what effect it has had on their programs felt the "impact was very little, if any at all."

"Let's face it, soccer is soccer and football is football," said one area coach. "You can't compare the two. If you want to know what I really think about soccer, I'll tell you. But you won't print it in your newspaper."

"Each group has its own following," said Bowie Athletic Director Bumps Vaughn. "Unless you're a real soccer fan, you won't go to the games. I don't think the sports are competing against one another but soccer will continue to grow because of the youths."

The threat of a football injury, the heavy pressure to win and the fact that soccer equipment is relatively cheap are other factors that have siphoned off many potential football players in high school.

"I've got friends on the football team and they agree with me as to why I won't play football," said Stollmeyer, who last year helped Jefferson win its third Northern Region soccer title in the last four years. "They say if they were in my shoes, they wouldn't play football, either."

Another player said he chose soccer because he felt soccer "was much safer and the pressure wasn't as great."

Soccer interest has increased tremendously in the area. It is estimated that between 40,000 and 80,000 youths between the ages of 5 and 19 play soccer. Many play year-round.

"The game is so attractive to kids who either can't physically play football or don't want to play," said Woodward soccer Coach Dave Scaggs. "We've tried to make our program very attractive to the kids."

Woodward, located in the middle of a youth-soccer hotbed, may be one of the few area schools that boast a profit from soccer game attendance.

"We sold about 500 to 600 season tickets last year," said Scaggs. "Sometimes, we have more people at away games than the home team has. But if you have a good product, it'll sell.

Woodward, Bowie, Walter Johnson, Jefferson, Whitman and Annandale are a few of the schools in the area where soccer is making a big splash.