As an 18-year-old senior last year at Oakland Mills in Columbia, Md., Darryl Gee was one of the most widely acclaimed high school soccer players in America.
He had scored 76 goals in high school and was named all-state twice, all-America once. The Minnesota Kicks chose him in the first round of the NASL's 1980 draft, although he was planning to attend the University of North Carolina.
But the NASL champion Cosmos changed his plans after acquiring the rights to Gee last June.
Against the advice of people close to him, Gee decided to skip college and sign a one-year contract with the Cosmos.
"Things didn't start off well for me last summer," Gee said yesterday in a telephone conversation from New York. "I didn't know anybody in New York. I didn't have a car or an apartment. And I was incredibly homesick. yIt was like the world threw me to the wolves and said, 'Let's see if the kid will survive.' Things looked pretty bad then."
But after rehabilitating an injured ankle that had bothered him last season, things are looking up for Darryl Gee nearly a year later, one week after his 19th birthday.
Gee hasn't played a regular-season game yet, but has been one of the Cosmos' four available substitutes for the last three. He made the traveling squad this week and will be in uniform when the Cosmos (8-2) come to RFK Stadium Saturday night to play the Diplomats (6-3), who are undefeated at home.
"I can't wait to get home," Gee said yesterday. "I have a lot more confidence in my game and Coach (Hennes) Weisweiler said I have improved a lot over last year. I feel like a grownup this year. I'm taking the responsibility of a man and a professional. The kid days are over. You have to become a man fast in New York or your mind will be blown to pieces.
"It finally hit me this spring that I'm a member of the Cosmos, not a fan. I'm not a kid anymore."
Gee is one of 10 Cosmos 22 years old or younger. Half the team was born after 1958. Jeff Durgan, 19, is a starting defender. Roberto Cabanas, who just turned 20, has started several games at forward. Julio Cesar Romero, 20, gets ample playing time and is one of the league's most exciting players. Ricky Davis, at 22, is already a veteran and starts the Cosmos' potent attack from midfield, although he will miss the game with Washington with a leg injury.
"Hennes has given a lot of good young players a break," Gee said. "It's important for us and important for the NASL. In other countries a 19-year-old player isn't such a novelty. Coach has tried to instill confidence in us, and confidence is the most important thing a young player can have."
Gee said that because the Cosmos organization treats the youngsters so well he won't consider switching teams when his contract expires next month.
"The option year of my contract starts next month and if I wasn't with the Cosmos, I'd love to play with the Dips," he said. "It would be great, of course, to come back to your home town and play professionally. But the benefits (like driving a new auto) are excellent and they treat me too well to consider leaving.
"Up here, with the Cosmos, there's no place like it."
Gee will be making his first appearance in RFK since last summer, when his United States youth team played several regional games there.
"I can't wait to let people see that Darryl Gee won't let anybody down and he's pushing hard," Gee said. "It took a while for all the young guys to grow into being accepted. But now, I can goof around and tease the veterans at practice and be relaxed. If I can get five or 10 minutes on the field, it'll be perfect.
"I don't have any regrets about skipping college. My outlook has brightened a bit from last year. Life has been good to me. I wouldn't change anything. Not one thing."