Teenagers that jumped on the soccer bandwagon at a young age have reaped the benefits of having years of experience in the sport as game competition increases.
Thirteen-year-old Jackson Mercer, who plays for the Kansas Soccer Academy Renegades has played since his parents signed him up for recreation leagues when he was in kindergarten.
Like many players in Lawrence who have been involved in the sport of soccer from a young age, he said he now practically eats, breathes and lives soccer to keep up with the increased competition and soccer frenzy.
"I spend pretty much most of my time every week playing and training," Mercer said. "When I'm not playing I'm usually watching games about every hour of the week except for when I'm sleeping."
Mercer plays for a KSA premier league, which means bigger competition that forces a strong commitment to the sport from young players.
"It has definitely gotten more competitive the longer I've played," Mercer said. "Everyone is better and faster and stronger. You have to keep up and be on top of your game all the time."
Premier leagues have steadily grown in prominence in Lawrence through the KSA and Kaw Valley Soccer Assn. leagues.
In search of competitive games, many of the teams play in Topeka and Kansas City as well as some matches across Kansas.
Brad Fanshier said his 10-year-old daughter, Tanna, spent most of her week practicing and playing in preparation for weekend premier games. Fanshier said when his daughter was not at practice or a game, she was usually in the backyard kicking the ball around.
Like Mercer, Tanna Fanshier started playing in kindergarten, but had steadily gotten more and more involved in soccer since then. She currently plays for a KSA team as well.
"I like the fact that it is really competitive," Tanna Fanshier said. "You have to work hard at it if you really want to do it. If you really want to do it you can't be half way in and half way out."
Years on the soccer field have allowed both Mercer and Fanshier the opportunity to stay committed to and grow in the sport. Both said they have noticed marked improvement in their skill level since entering the premier league. Both currently focus on soccer as their main sport and activity outside of school.
"Since I've been playing it's gotten harder and more serious," Tanna Fanshier said. "It used to be a fun little thing that I did, and now it's a big thing that I do."
Both Mercer and Tanna Fanshier said they have certainly caught a wave of soccer fever.
Both avidly watched the World Cup this summer and like to watch professional soccer teams during the regular season. They said their soccer passion even extends into their activities with friends and schoolmates.
But for all the hard work and obsession, Brad Fanshier said the time and effort must have paid off.
Tanna's team is currently undefeated after moving up a couple divisions in the premier league, and Mercer said he looks forward to conquering even more teams and tournaments.