Clint Peay wasn't overwhelmed when he entered the University of Virginia soccer program at 17.
This despite the Cavaliers' No. 1 national ranking, a position they've become familiar with. When Virginia plays host to Yale on Sunday, it will mark the fourth straight year coach Bruce Arena's powerhouse has advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals.
They'll do it with freshman Peay starting in the back for the 19th time in 20 games this fall, and Arena said, "He's fit in beautifully."
Virginia has three players on the U.S. under-23 team trying to qualify for next year's Olympic Games, and Arena annually recruits two or three players off the Parade All-America team. For an American collegian with high aspirations in soccer, there aren't many better places to be than Charlottesville.
Peay fits the profile.
The Evening Sun Player of the Year in 1990 and two-time first-team All-Metro at Oakland Mills High, Peay recently was a member of the national under-18 team. He has worn a red, white and blue uniform in Italy and England, along with A.J. Wood, another Virginia freshman from Maryland. Peay is interested in landing a spot on the U.S. under-20 team, and improving his position in the pool of national players.
"A place like Virginia keeps your game up," Peay said. "It's almost like we've got a national team right here."
Arena calls the Class of 1995 "better than average." Midfielder Claudio Reyna, who's from Springfield, N.J., is the first athlete to be named Player of the Year twice by Parade. Wood, a Rockville native who played at Georgetown Prep, was named Parade's top forward in 1990, and Peay the top back.
Only Bowie's Erik Imler -- an Atlantic Coast Conference all-star and another Olympic hopeful -- and one other player have logged more minutes for Virginia than Peay this season. Making a run from his marking back position, Peay assisted on Wood's goal in the fourth overtime period of a 2-1 victory over Hartford last Sunday in the NCAA round of 16. Asked if it was the biggest play of his career, Peay said, "So far."
Peay doesn't talk or play like someone who turned 18 on Sept. 16.
His formal soccer instruction began at 4 in a Mini-Mite League in Columbia. His skills were honed playing with older brothers Sean and Eric. Another face in the crowd was Dante Washington, who joined Sean at Radford (Va.) University and blossomed into the NCAA's premier goal scorer and a member of the U.S. team trying to get into the Olympics.
"I played with Sean and a lot of his friends," Peay said. "That helped my development a great deal."
Peay made the Oakland Mills varsity as a 13-year-old freshman. He was a sophomore starter in 1988, when the Scorpions were ranked No. 1 in the area. Howard High and Todd Haskins ruled in 1989, but Peay led Oakland Mills back to the top a year ago, while not getting half of the notice that went to Haskins.
"That never bothered me," Peay said. "Todd got more publicity because of his goal scoring. It's more pleasant [for U.S. fans] to see goals. That's the way it is."
Haskins is a sophomore at North Carolina, which used several Columbia products when it reached the NCAA semis in 1987. Virginia, meanwhile, rarely has ventured to Howard County for talent, although Wilde Lake's Steve Brunett lettered for the Cavaliers in 1980 and '81. Brunett, incidentally, coached several Columbia Diplomats travel teams that featured Peay.
The Virginia-Yale survivor will advance to the NCAA Final Four in Tampa, Fla., Dec. 6 and 8. Virginia got that far in 1983 and '89, when it shared the title with Santa Clara.