Michael Stollmeyer has a picture, a faded black-and-white photo, that to him explains why his son John is suddenly a celebrity at Annandale's Jefferson High School.
"He's just a tiny boy in the photo -- maybe 4 or 5 years old," said the elder Stollmeyer, a civilian employee with the Army Corps of Engineers. "He's kicking a red rubber ball like the ones that children play with. The form, and the way he kicked the ball, are almost picture perfect. To be honest, what has happened this week is no surprise to me. I knew a long time ago, before John began playing youth soccer, that he was different."
John Stollmeyer now is 18, and still kicking soccer balls with picture-perfect form -- good enough, in fact, for the Tampa Bay Rowdies to make him their No. 1 choice, and the 11th overall, in the North American Soccer League draft. A high school all-America as a junior, Stollmeyer is perhaps the best young player in a very rich soccer area.
He also is the second straight local high school player to be selected in the first round of the NASL draft. Last year Darryl Gee, a forward from Columbia's Oakland Mills High School, was picked No. 2 and is now with the Cosmos.
"He's not a flashy player, but he's one of the most hard-working and intelligent you'll ever see," said Jefferson Coach Ralph Chapman of Stollmeyer. "His skills are great, but his ability to use those skills are what sets him apart from others.
"I've seen players with better skills in this area; I've even got a couple on my team with comparable ability. But John has the ball sense, the positioning sense, that other players don't."
Although classmates "made kind of a big deal" of his selection, Stollmeyer took news of his pick in stride.
"I had heard from Tampa Bay about a week before the draft," he said. "They asked me if I would consider playing for them if they took me. I said I was willing to listen.
"I had a cold on Monday, so I was home when they called me. I talked to the general manager (Chas Serednesky), who told me they had picked me. A little later, Coach (Gordon) Jago called me and we talked about it for a while."
Then, he said, he bacame a little excited. "I called my dad. He's had so much to do with my soccer career.
"He always would come out with me and pushed me. He's coached me for a long time, and was always working in my ball skills, things like that."
"Sometimes I wondered if I was working him too hard, that he wouldn't be playing soccer if I wasn't pushing him like I was," admitted Michael Stollmeyer, a native of Trinidad who played college ball at Penn State. "But then I noticed he would work out even if I wasn't around. All I can say is that I'm very proud of him. He's worked hard and has developed into a very good player."
A 5-foot-9, 155-pound midfielder, Stollmeyer has scored 35 goals, including 15 goals to go with 15 assists last season. He is also a member of the highly regarded Annandale Boys Club Red Rovers select team, as well as the starting midfielder for the U.S. youth squad.
It was his play on the youth team this summer that convinced the Rowdies that Stollmeyer was their man, Jago said.
"We'd had our eye on him ever since the Olympic camp in Colorado Springs in 1979," Jago said. "Even then, we were impressed with him as a player and with his strength of character. And then he played very well with the youth team. He hasn't been a secret among most coaches in the NASL."
Jago envisions Stollmeyer as a play-making midfielder, noting, "He has the ability to make the pass that counts."
First, however, Stollmeyer must decide whether to sign with the Rowdies or play college ball. He already has been offered a four-year scholarship at Indiana, this year's NCAA runner-up, and Stollmeyer admits that playing for IU is very tempting.
"All my friends are saying, 'Go for it, take the money,'" Stollmeyer said.
"But right now I'm just listening. I don't have to make a decision until after I graduate in June. I want to play pro ball some day. I'll just have to see."