Daron Copp's soccer future looked as bleak as a Kansas landscape at this time last winter.
Copp, 1991 Lawrence High graduate, had recruiting calls from a number of junior colleges, but he didn't want to go to a juco.
Then one day LHS teammate Keith Nelson, who was being wooed by Baker coach Sean Holmes, invited him to Baldwin for a pick-up game.
"I hadn't seen Daron play until a couple of years ago out on the grass in front of Allen Fieldhouse," Holmes said. "One day Keith called and said he might bring a friend. (Copp) did well. I saw a lot of potential."
He also saw somebody who could withstand Baker's academic rigors. Convinced, Holmes began recruiting Copp.
"He's a very bright kid," Holmes said. "I thought he might be a guy who, if you put him in a good system with some coaching, could blossom. And he did, from the second day of training camp."
NELSON AND Copp became the first two Lawrence High graduates to attend college on soccer scholarships. Nelson opted to attend Johnson County Community College for academic reasons, and Copp became the first ex-Lion to scholarship at a four-year school.
January is a long way from training camp, and Copp is getting along fine. He has retained his presidential scholarship, which requires that he maintain at least a 3.0 grade-point average.
He graded out as well on the field, starting several games and finishing the season with a goal and four assists.
"It's a lot more physical," Copp said, comparing college to prep soccer. "There are not as many superstars, because you really can't touch the ball more than a couple times (in a row). If you hold it, you're going to get whacked."
Copp was in position to be both whacker and whackee last season, since he played three of the four positions on the field.
HE STARTED on defense at sweeper, moving from there to midfield and then to forward. Holmes said Copp might have been in the right place to start with.
"I still think (sweeper) might be his best position," the coach said. "It is, in effect, the quarterback. You control the defense. He didn't think he could shoulder the responsibility. But I'd be willing to try him there again."
Copp preferred forward, where he started in Baker's 5-1 win over Benedictine in the district playoff opener. That was when he scored his goal.
"The ball came across," he said. "The keeper dove out of the box after the ball and missed. It stopped in the box right at my feet, and I just hit it into the empty net."
The Wildcats went on to beat St. Mary of the Plains in the district final and 17th-ranked John Brown College from Arkansas in the first round of the area tournament. A 3-1 loss in the area final to Rockhurst, ranked second in the nation, kept Baker from the national tournament.
"EVERYONE IS looking forward to playing Rockhurst next year," Copp said.
Rockhurst is unmistakably the regional powerhouse. Baker aspires to that position.
"Our best teams will be two or three years down the road when we have four full recruiting classes," the coach said. "Every year the level of recruits we talk to gets higher. We're talking to a couple of kids on a national youth team who a couple of years ago would have scoffed at us."
Last season's recruiting class was much the same, meaning Copp could be not only the first scholarship collegiate player out of Lawrence High, but one of the first to walk into unchecked success at Baker.