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When Eric Branham began playing soccer years ago at age 6 with Fred's Friends of the Brooklyn Park Youth Athletic Association, his coach would call his mother the morning of a game to confirm her son's presence.

Little did his coach know that nothing could have kept Branham away.

While years have elapsed since Branham's introduction to organized soccer, his desire for the sport remains constant.

"I was brought up with soccer, and I love it," said Branham, 15, who has spent thebulk of his summer as a student and teacher of the game. "If I couldstay with it my whole life, I would."

Branham, a member of the Potomac Silver Streak -- a 15-and-under team based in Montgomery County-- recently returned from a trip to Amherst, Mass., where his team captured the 15-and-under U.S. Youth Soccer Association's Eastern Regional Championship.

In the round-robin regional tournament, Branham-- a center forward and center halfback -- tallied four goals and seven assists, helping the Silver Streak to a 5-0 record. Unfortunately, there is no national championship offered at that age level, so Branham can only boast that his team is "one of the four best in the nation."

With the Silver Streaks' season behind him and the high school season around the corner, Branham decided to stay involved in the sport this summer by serving as a coach of 8- to 10-year-olds at the Maryland Soccer School at Bullis Prep in Potomac -- an experience he describes as both rewarding and fatiguing.

"It's been rough," Branham said, shaking his head and smiling. "The kids are wild. I don't remember being that wild when I was that age. It's fun, though. I justlike being around soccer as much as I possibly can."

Because he still is too young to drive, the task of keeping Branham involved falls on his parents, no strangers to trekking from their home in Brooklyn Park to the suburbs of Washington four times a week.

"Our weekends don't belong to us," said his mother, Angie. "Right now, we have aplace down at the ocean, and we haven't gone down there one day yet.

"It's hard to keep him away from the sport, and it's even harder to keep him home. He's only been home two days this summer. He calls it his ticket to a good education, and hopefully, it will be."

From the looks of his resume, Eric is doing all the things that college scouts look for in a recruit. A three-year member of the U.S. Soccer Federation-sponsored Olympic Development Program, he has competed on the Maryland State team and the Eastern Regional squad.

This fall,Eric will enter his sophomore year at Calvert Hall in Towson, where he hopes to become a varsity starter.

As a freshman last season, he played for the Cardinals' 14-0-2 junior varsity squad, which captured a Maryland Scholastic Association A Conference title.

While many county soccer coaches stew over Branham's decision to take his act outside Anne Arundel, he knows his former teammates and schoolmates remain supportive.

"Some people tell me I should come and play for this team or that team, but I ask them, 'Why should I go with them when I've already won a regional title and have a chance of playing forthe nationals next year?' " said Eric, who one day hopes to play forthe University of North Carolina.

"I think it's senseless to do that."

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