With a division-leading 15 goals in just 16 games, Chilliwack soccer phenom Brody Huitema has drawn plenty of attention in his first year with the Vancouver Whitecaps U16 residency program.
And his on-field prowess may soon translate to off-field success. After more than 70 universities expressed interest, Huitema has verbally committed to play soccer for one of the most prestigious universities in the United States.
"The plan right now is to go to Stanford, hopefully," Huitema, who is still in Grade 11, told the Times. It is the first full-ride scholarship the school has ever offered to a male soccer player. Huitema said the plan is to play and study business management or business law at the school, while training with the Whitecaps in the summer and maintaining his homegrown status. After finishing a business degree at the San Francisco-area school, Huitmea would hope to then return to play for the Whitecaps.
He said attending Stanford has been a goal of his since he was 10 years old.
"I've always known that, from an academic standpoint, having a degree from Stanford makes it a lot easier to get jobs in the area that you're looking for," said Huitema, who visited the school over spring break and met with the program's coaches.
"Their girl's team is number one in the nation and they're trying to work on their guys, team. So I get that overall vibe from them that they're working towards [becoming] a top-level school not only for academics but also soccer."
For Huitema, the commitment to Stanford caps a terrific debut season with the Whitecaps program, which sees the affable 16-year-old living and training in Burnaby alongside some of the best young soccer players in Western Canada.
"It's been amazing," he said, noting that the team competes against 80-odd squads around the United States. "We're the only team in Canada, so you get a lot of experiences with travel. You get to see a lot of the U.S.
"We get a lot of game experience against top-level players in America."
Huitema opened the season in style by scoring a hat-trick in just his second game and has scored at a goal-a-game pace ever since, putting him amongst the top scorers in the huge league.
Meanwhile, he's been brushing shoulders with members of the Whitecaps MLS squad like the team's keeper Joe Cannon.
"You see them on TV and in the first-team games at B.C. Place, [but] you get a different feeling from what you see on the field to what you see in person," he said. "You actually get to know what their personalities are like."
And those players have left him with a desire to return to the city once his college days are over.
"I just get the vibe that Vancouver's a really nice place to play," he said. "They really enjoy themselves and I enjoy myself with the staff I know right now.'
Watching fellow residency players make the transition to the pro team has shown Huitema that, even if he still has a ways to go, he is on the right path.
"I've definitely seen what it can be like," he said.
Whitecaps director of soccer development Dan Lenarduzzi said Huitema has attracted plenty of attention from scouts.
"We're really excited about Brody's development. He's really a prototypical forward; he's big and strong," said Lenarduzzi. "He's a perfect example of a player with a ton of potential."
He said Huitema has made considerable progress in the past year.
"A lot of people are looking at him because it's not often that you get a big, strong scorer who's scoring goals," he said.
"What we hope is that it's opened up a lot of doors for Brody. But in the end we hope that Brody will be a big contributor to the Whitecaps Football Club in the future."