Jake Pace was about 10 years old and playing for the Soccer Association of Columbia (SAC) when he watched his first college game at the University of Maryland.
"I saw this environment and thought, damn, I would really like to play here," he said.
Pace, after a standout career at River Hill, has seen those childhood dreams come true the last few years on the well-manicured Ludwig Field on the College Park campus under veteran head coach Sasho Cirovski.
This fall the redshirt junior forward from Clarksville is finishing his fourth season in the Maryland program. He had chances to play at George Washington or Penn State but picked the Terps, partly so his parents would easily be able to watch his home matches.
"I set that goal when I was young and it is pretty cool to live it. I have always wanted to play here. When I met the guys and met Sasho, I felt it was the place for me," Pace said.
Maryland was 14-0-2 overall and ranked No. 1 in the country following a 2-2 tie against league-foe Clemson Oct. 27. Maryland's last regular-season contest is Nov. 1 at Wake Forest and the ACC Tournament is set to begin Nov. 5.
"The Final Four is obviously our goal, and also the ACC (tourney) championship and regular-season ACC championships," Pace said. "We have known those goals since we started this journey. We are still building. We need to continue to step our game up. We are going to build and we are going to work. We want it so bad. None of us have been (to the Final Four) before."
Pace has played in all 16 games thus far, with two starts, and has four goals and two assists this season.
"I have been working hard. I put in a lot of time this summer and I am getting results from it," he said. "I am trying to make the most of my minutes. Right now I am feeling good as we keep progressing."
Last year he played in 12 games, all off the bench, and had two goals and one assist. In 2010 he came off the bench in six games and did not score.
Pace, a fourth generation Maryland student, helped River Hill to two state titles and was the Howard County Times Player of the Year his junior season with the Hawks. He has, however, come off the bench most of his college career.
"It is different. It is obviously something I had not done before coming to Maryland. (Cirovski) is trying to find a role for me. I have accepted it and made the best out of it," Pace said.
That team-first approach hasn't gone unnoticed.
"He is a coaches' dream," said Maryland assistant Michael Dello-Russo, a former standout at Wilde Lake High and for the Terps. "You know Jake Pace will give you 100 percent, whether it is a three-on-three drill or a game against North Carolina before 7,000 fans."
That latter scenario took place Oct. 19 as Maryland, ranked No. 1 in the country at the time, beat No. 2 UNC, 1-0, in overtime in a clash of Atlantic Coast Conference rivals in College Park.
"Jake does everything right," Cirovski says. "He is one of the hardest workers in the program. He embraces every role that he is given. He is team first, always. He has scored big goals for us. He just works real hard. He is a great competitor."
The Terps are a lock to advance to the NCAA tourney, no matter what happens in the ACC tourney. Maryland won the NCAA title in 2005 and 2008 under Cirovski, a resident of Highland in Howard County.
"We started out real high," Pace said. "We are still building. We need to step up our game some. We will be ready when the time comes."
Pace is on track to graduate in the spring with a degree in kinesiology. He also has one more season of eligibility left, though the chance to turn pro after this season is something that he is considering.
"I am trying to get better every game. I would love to play pro soccer. If the opportunity presents itself I will take it," he said.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun