Early last week, Sean Rush was in Italy, his palms sweating.
And the hard part was already out of the way for the 19-year-old former Dulaney High soccer standout.
Invited to try out with the Italian club FBC Treviso, a Serie B team, Rush got in one training session and then played in an intrasquad match in which he scored the only goal, bending in a shot from 18 yards with his left foot.
The next night at dinner, he was offered a contract.
The jitters soon followed.
"I've been practicing my signature since I was little," he said. "In school, over and over, I'd write 'Sean Rush' and then put a No. 10 next to it. But signing that contract, I was nervous."
Signing the contract, a one-year deal that will begin when he joins the team in July, made Rush the first American since former U.S. national team hero Alexi Lalas to join the first team in either of Italy's top two divisions.
Lalas signed with Padova, a Serie A club, in 1994 and played two years in Italy before returning to the United States to play for Major League Soccer's New England Revolution. Only four Americans played in Italy before Lalas, all dating to the 1930s and early 1940s.
Comfortable on the soccer field since he started playing when he was 3 years old, Rush, who has extensive international experience at the youth level through the U.S. Olympic Development Program, is confident he has found an ideal fit in Italy.
"I love the way they play the game," said Rush, a 5-foot-8, 150-pound central midfielder. "I've played in other countries before and didn't really feel accepted on the field as I do in Italy. Everything is quick, fast-paced, with one and two touches."
Rush, who spent one season at Long Island University after graduating from Dulaney in 2003, has played in Germany, trained with Pele's former club, Santos, in Brazil and, most recently, worked out with another Italian team, AC Venezia, for four months last fall.
Those experiences will help him on and off the field when he returns to Italy in the summer.
"Sean has always had a love for the game and his one focus has been becoming a professional soccer player. He's never deviated from that," said his father, Bob.
"From a maturity standpoint, he's been over to Germany, Brazil and Italy and has matured internationally more than a typical 19-year-old just sheer being over there."
Rush, who adds a good understanding of the game to fine vision and playmaking skills, has a soccer lineage.
His great-grandfather, Andy Rush, played professionally in Ireland in the 1920's. His grandfather, Willie Rush, played for the Baltimore Americans in the 1940s and 1950s and is a member of the Maryland Soccer Hall of Fame. Bob Rush played and coached collegiately at Towson.
Now, it's Sean's turn. Almost. For now, he's back home with his family in Timonium, biding his time until July.
"I'm looking forward to getting back, get in the flow of practices every day and the games," he said. "It's going to be my job now. Monday through Friday you got to work, Saturday you play your game and Sunday you get off."
How quick Rush adjusts to the professional game in Italy will determine how quick he can get onto the field come game day.
"Technically, he's very good and he'll be able to hang in from that standpoint. The issue is how he can handle the physical side of play there," said his Baltimore Bays club coach, Dave Nesbitt.
"He'll have to prove himself every day and it's going to be tough, but he's got great potential. He'll have to buckle down, get over there already in shape and adjust to the system of play."
Another big adjustment for Rush, who is planning to take a course in Italian before July, will be getting more comfortable with the way of life in Italy. He said that while the pace is fast on the soccer field, it's very slow off it.
"Just living in Italy itself is culture shock. Stores are open just 2 1/2 days out of the week, so convenience is not the best thing," he said. "The place I live there -- it's called Jesolo -- it kind of reminds me of Ocean City. It's just very relaxing."