Although Heritage midfielder/forward Andre Deas will miss a couple of critical games for the Patriots over the next several days, he's got a good reason for his absence.
The sophomore, 15, was one of 15 players selected from the state's Olympic Development Pool to travel to Portugal for nearly two weeks to train at Sporting Lisbon, a multi-sports club best known for its soccer program and perhaps even better known for being the club that spawned Cristiano Ronaldo, of Real Madrid and Manchester United acclaim.
"This is a great opportunity for Andre," said Heritage coach Brandon Stewart, whose team (12-3, 5-2) will wrap up the regular season today at Region 8-AAAAA foe Loganville. "Sporting Lisbon is a good proving ground for young players and this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We'll miss him for these two games, but we hope to have him back in time for the first round of state."
For the season, Deas has recorded 10 goals and eight assists for the Patriots. He plays club soccer for Atlanta-based Concorde Fire FC and began his soccer career with the SDY Jaguars in DeKalb County, a program founded and directed by his father, Andre Deas Sr.
Stewart, who said he traveled to compete in Brazil with his club team during his days at Heritage, added that Deas will compete mostly with players who are a little older than he is.
"He's been in the ODP since he was 13," said Stewart, now in his seventh season as head coach at his alma mater (Class of 1997). "He's in the 1997 group and this is an opportunity for him to play with guys from the 1996 team. Andre was one of just three players from his ODP pool to get this opportunity ... It's good to see him doing so well."
Earlier this year, Deas was one of 35 players from Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas chosen to represent the Southeast Region ODP team. He was one of five players from Georgia to make the cut.
"He's just got a tremendous understanding of the game," Stewart said. "He's a natural and that's something you can't coach. He gets it. We're trying to steer him and all our players in the right direction as players and young men on the field, in the classroom and in the hallways. The soccer part is pretty easy for Andre, and going to Lisbon is a big feather in his cap."
While the 5-foot-7, 125-pound Deas and his ODP teammates will have plenty of opportunities for cultural experiences while in Portugal, Stewart said the emphasis will be on soccer.
"They'll be playing against kids in their age group, but these are kids who are being groomed to be professional players," Stewart said. "They'll be evaluated by the club's staff and will be competing against a club with a substantial pedigree. This is a big experience."
Stewart said by the time his Heritage career is over, Deas could well be one of the best players to ever compete for the Patriots, a group that includes Clint Mathis (class of 1993) and Brad Morgan and Brandon Cheek (both from the class of 2003).
"He played a lot for us last year as a freshman, and it took him a while to adjust to the speed and size, but this year, he's been fantastic and has been a starter for us since Day One," Stewart said. "I think he might already be in Heritage's top 10 after just one full year of being part of the team. He could move into the top 5 over the next couple of years."