Baldwin Local connections through his coach, Alan Koch, have landed Baker University senior Marty Johnston in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Koch, Baker's men's soccer coach, played for Simon Fraser University, which is located near Vancouver. He has believed Johnston could play professional soccer since he took over the Wildcats last season.
Johnston signed a one-year contract to play professionally for the Vancouver Whitecaps of the United Soccer Leagues. The announcement was made Monday afternoon at a small news conference at Baker's Collins House.
"Pretty much every time he stepped on the field, he showed that he was capable of playing at the next level," Koch said. "I contacted the Whitecaps and had no problem recommending him."
"I was thrilled," Johnston said of signing the contract. "I was pretty nervous because I wasn't sure where I stood. It feels great to get that off my shoulders."
Johnston acknowledged that his coach started the process that led to his signing.
"Coach Koch has connections, and he thought I was able to play at that level," Johnston said. "So I went up to Vancouver in February for some training sessions. I came back then they invited me back to their training camp. So during the past week, I was up there playing three preseason games with them. I scored a couple of goals (and) did pretty well, so they offered me a contract."
Several family members joined Johnston at the news conference. His father is thrilled to see what his son has done with his life since coming to Baker in 2003.
"I am very proud, and our whole family is very proud," Stan Johnston said. "You always think it's possible, but it's such a long shot to become a professional athlete. I am just so pleased Marty was able to come to Baker from Blue Valley North and play for four years, have a great career and graduate on time. It's really a testament to him."
Johnston, a forward from Leawood, ranks fourth all-time in goals scored at Baker. He scored 22 goals as a sophomore.
In 2006, Johnston received numerous honors for the Wildcats. He was a first-team All-Heart of America Conference pick and all-region selection and received All-America honorable mention.
Johnston will graduate in May with a bachelor's degree in psychology with an emphasis in research and communication.
Although he will graduate from Baker, Johnston doesn't think he will be able to attend his commencement ceremony in May.
"I doubt it because my schedule will be pretty hectic," Johnston said. "It probably won't work out for coming back. If there was any other reason, it would be upsetting."
The Whitecaps' regular season will begin April 21. Johnston will move to Vancouver on Friday.
"I love the Pacific Northwest," Johnston said. "It's a great area, and the summers up there are great. I am excited about moving up there."