By Linda Smith Hancharick HEWITT Eric Klenofsky has been playing soccer since he was a little kid. Like many boys and girls, he started kicking the ball around when he was just five years old. By the time he was 12, it had become much more than just a fun activity to him; he went from loving the game to being totally immersed in it.
"I play soccer seven days a week," said Eric. "When I was in 7th grade I went from loving soccer to being totally devoted to it."
And that was a turning point for this 17-year-old from Hewitt who just completed his junior year at DePaul Catholic High School. Last month, Eric verbally committed to playing soccer for Division 1 Southern Methodist University, better known as SMU, after he graduates in 2013.
"I"m very thankful for all of the support I've always had," said Eric, who plays goalkeeper. From his parents, Mike and Susan, to his big brother and sister, Alex and Sara, to his longtime coach and trainer, Steve Beneventine who Eric calls "Coach Steve," Eric said he couldn't have come so far in his game without them.
"They are my biggest fans," said Eric. "Coach Steve has been the guiding hand for me. He is my biggest fan, second to my dad."
"Great instincts" Eric's dad, Mike, was an athlete himself, playing college basketball. But he got his son playing soccer at the urging of a coworker. Eric said he used to go to his brother Alex's soccer practices all the time, picking up on what they were learning, just a few years earlier than he would have.
"I was always around my brother's soccer practices," said Eric. "I would not have been so developed without my brother's help."
When he was 10, he started training at The Sports Factory (TSF) in Lincoln Park. Steve Beneventine was his trainer.
"As a 10-year-old, he had great instincts," said Beneventine, who owns TSF. "And he has a passion to play the position. It doesn't hurt to be 6 feet 5 inches tall either."
But he wasn't that tall back then. Still. Beneventine saw something special in Eric - his ability and his commitment.
"He's worked extremely hard at this," he said.
Eric's been part of the US Soccer League's Olympic Development Program since 7th grade. He recalled his parents taking him and his siblings to Outback with some really big news. That big news was that Eric had been accepted to the Super Y Olympic Development Program national camp in Florida.
Soccer is life Eric admits his life pretty much revolves around his family, good friends, school work and soccer. He received interest from several big schools, including Duke, Wake Forest, University of Virginia, St. John's University and others. He chose SMU, in part, for the great package they offered, the team they have and because the nationally ranked top-20 soccer powerhouse will be moving into the Big East Conference next year. That way, even though Eric will be going to school in Texas, he will play many of his games in the east, near his family and friends.
According to Beneventine, so many schools were interested in Eric for many reasons too, not the least of which is his overall 3.0 grade point average.
A YouTube sensation Eric used the Internet to get noticed by these big-time soccer coaches. Each year, he explained, the senior soccer players at DePaul get a DVD containing all of that season's soccer games. He borrowed that DVD and put together a video of all of his highlights. He posted it on YouTube.
While he was in Dallas at a soccer tournament, the SMU coach saw him play. He Googled his name, saw the YouTube video and contacted him. They met the next day and Eric liked the Mustangs as much as they liked him.
Goals for the goalie Eric still has one year left of soccer at DePaul. He said his high school team "is getting better year by year" and won their first Passaic County title last year.
"We definitely have the talent to win the state," he said.
He is certainly willing to work at it.
"I think every day I work is another step toward my goal," said Eric.
And that goal, ultimately, is to play professional soccer. Eric is a fan of the Tottenham Hotspur Football Club in England and he likes the Red Bulls closer to home. Maybe someday, he'll be playing for one of them.
Before that, though, he's got his senior year at DePaul and playing on the huge stage of SMU. Does that put pressure on him?
"I feel some pressure but I've felt it all my life," said Eric. "I'm a goalie. I have to be good under pressure."