Nate Kohl has long dreamed about playing soccer at the highest level.
The Hilliard Darby High School junior took a major step toward fulfilling that goal when he was one of 31 players from across the nation to be selected by U.S. U17 men's national team coach Richie Williams to participate in the spring semester of the squad's residency program.
Kohl received his invitation Dec. 19 while training with the Columbus Crew Academy, and he flew to Bradenton, Fla., on Jan. 6 to begin training with the U17 men's national team.
"I was really excited when I got the call that they wanted me to come to Florida because I've wanted to have this opportunity for a long time," Kohl said. "I was nervous when I first got here because I'm used to being the top man on my club team, and this is, by far, the best talent I've ever been around. But this is what I've always wanted because you need to train with the best players to get better."
The 6-foot-1, 175-pound forward was selected because of his ability to beat defenders in one-on-one situations and score goals.
Darby boys soccer coach Johnny Ulry, who coached Kohl during his freshman and sophomore seasons, wasn't surprised to hear about his former player advancing to Bradenton at the age of 16.
Kohl played for the Crew Academy during his junior season.
"I've known Nate since he was in eighth grade and he always talked about getting to this point," Ulry said. "Nate's drive separates him. He works harder and smarter than anyone I know. He always has his foot on the ball or is in the weight room, and if you look at his physique, you can see he's a physical specimen. He's fast and has very good technical abilities, and he has the skill to take one, two or even three people at the same time. He's a natural goal-scorer who is always in the right place at the right time.
"If you think about all of the millions of kids who play this sport, to be selected as one of the best 31 players in this country is incredible. It's like playing the lottery and hitting the jackpot."
Kohl and his teammates live in dorm rooms at the IMG Academies. They train under the U17 men's national team's coaching staff from 8 a.m. to noon each weekday.
The players attend three classes at St. Stephen's Episcopal School from 1 to 4 p.m. each weekday before attending a team meeting from 6 to 7 p.m. and doing homework at a study table.
On Jan. 21, Kohl and his teammates competed against the New York Red Bulls, and on Jan. 22, they competed against the Crew.
"Everything's a lot different here, especially the warm weather," Kohl said. "Personally, I think school is easier here because it's only three classes and we have a lot of time to study.
"It's really exciting playing at this level. I never thought I'd play against the Crew's A team at this age."
Twenty of the 31 players will be selected to compete for the U17 men's national team in the CONCACAF Championship on April 6-19 in Panama against Barbados, Canada, Costa Rica, Cuba, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama and Trinidad and Tobago. The CONCACAF Championship will serve as the qualifying tournament for the FIFA U17 World Cup, which will be held in October in Saudi Arabia.
The squad's spring semester ends June 8, and Kohl hopes he will be selected to join the U17 men's national team once again in August.
"My goal is to progress so I can stay with the national team for as long as possible," he said. "It would be an honor to get the chance to play in the World Cup in Saudi Arabia."
Even if Kohl receives that opportunity, he plans to return home during the winter of his senior school year to graduate from Darby.
Kohl then will attend the University of Michigan on a soccer scholarship. He made a verbal commitment in October.
"We're all huge Ohio State fans in my family," he said. "My dad (Keith) wasn't happy when I told him I was considering Michigan, but when we went up there on a visit, we found out it was an awesome school, and that's where I wanted to go.
"At football games, I might secretly still root the Buckeyes, but I'm looking forward to playing soccer for the Wolverines."
Kohl has set much loftier goals for himself beyond playing college soccer.
"I'd like to play in the World Cup and Olympics with the U.S. men's national team," he said. "My goal is to play professional soccer someday and I'd love to come back and play for (the Crew). My goal is to become a big icon -- with a Nike contract -- who kids know and look up to."