Signing day a special one for Baltimore Celtic Soccer Club

Some of the area’s finest high school boys soccer players gathered at CBS Sports Radio 1300 on Tuesday night, sharing fond memories and discussing their bright futures.

They are members of the Baltimore Celtic Soccer Club, an impressive collection of 22 players from the current Under-18 and Under-19 teams, and they were celebrating their next stops.

On Wednesday, some of the players began signing national letters of intent to accept athletic scholarships from Division I and Division II colleges.

Those two Celtic teams, one a national champion and the other a semifinalist over the summer, had 13 area players sign to play for D-I schools.

Others, such as Archbishop Curley senior forward Ben Stitz — The Baltimore Sun’s All-Metro Player of the Year — will play at Penn and Mount Saint Joseph All-Metro defender Tyler Collins will play for Navy. Those two players, in addition to a few others who decided to play at D-III schools, don’t sign letters of intent.

While many of the top players in the country choose to play in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy to gain exposure for the national team and top colleges, prohibiting them from competing for their respective high schools in the meantime, Celtic enables players to develop with a high-level club and continue to represent their high schools.

“We think high school soccer is beneficial and we think kids should be able to choose to play high school soccer. And we believe in this area, for most of the best players, it’s still important and — all things being equal — they want to play for their schools, so we provide that opportunity,” said Celtic director of coaching Brandon Quaranta, who also coaches at McDonogh. “It’s worked for us and our players have not only got a great experience through their four years of high school and club ball, but they’ve gone on to the next level to great schools and some even to the next level after that and playing pro.”

So there they all were Tuesday, club teammates and high school rivals, and some set to reunite in college. Curley’s Nick Richardson and Mount Saint Joseph’s Brett St. Martin, both All-Metro defenders, will next play at Maryland. Mount St. Mary’s, which brings back soccer this fall after discontinuing its program in 2012, recruited a good Celtic haul with Catonsville’s McKenzie Ali and David Owens, Long Reach’s Jonathon Fawole and Curley’s Tommy Sidleck all signing Wednesday. UMBC coach Pete Caringi Jr.’s program has always counted on hometown talent, and Mount Saint Joseph’s Jake Mazzei and Jordan Ehart are the next to come aboard.

Richardson, who got an opportunity to train with the U.S. Under-17 national team at this time last year, was able to win a national championship at the club level and lead Curley to two Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference title games. He finished his high school career as a four-time All-Metro selection. For him, deciding to play for Celtic instead of in the academy proved worthwhile.

“We made a great bond and we’ve been successful by playing as a team and we all kind of made a bond that couldn’t be broken last year that led us all the way to winning a national championship,” he said. “Just winning that gave us a lot of notice throughout the country and a lot of the kids have signed to big schools and gotten notice at places they wouldn’t have before.”

Curley coach Barry Stitz, who coached the Celtics’ national-champion team this summer, said the club’s mission is to show players they can play high-level club ball, experience all the positives that come with representing your high school and also be assured that top colleges will find them.

“I think there’s a fear out there among some kids that if they aren’t playing academy soccer, then college coaches aren’t going to see them,” he said. “I think this group proves that wrong.”

The club offers teams for boys and girls ranging from Under-8 through Under-18 with some of the area’s finest high school and college coaches.

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