By Kaitlin Fleming
At the age of four, Grace McClellan had a dream that she would one day play professional soccer.
Now, the Southside High School senior has gotten one step closer to having her dreams a reality.
McClellan has had an opportunity for the past two years to play with an Olympic Development Soccer Program in London. She was the first goal-keeper from Alabama to ever be in the international program.
“It was amazing,” said McClellan. “We played six games against teams in England. They know more textbook knowledge about soccer where as in the states were more athletic in our playing.”
McClellan was picked twice out of a group of 600 female soccer players in the nation. Those 600 players are then narrowed down to 50 goalkeepers and then narrowed down again to five goalkeepers.
McClellan gets up at 5:30 a.m. for a workout at Absolute Fitness in rainbow City. Then she goes to school until 1:30 p.m. After 1:30, she drives to Rome, Ga., where she plays soccer for the Darlington Academy. She plays until 6 p.m. and after that comes home to do homework.
“A lot of people don’t understand what I’m doing or why I’m doing it. I’ve had so many days that I just come home and cry and pray. I don’t have time to be with my friends. I know that God has a plan for my life though.”
Teresa Taylor with Absolute Fitness spoke about Grace and her dedication.
“We have amazing young people in our gym and Grace is a phenomenal soccer player. What she is doing takes a certain type of person and it takes dedication and a certain mindset.”
McClellan got her start in soccer very early on. She played for multiple teams and played in state championships. She and her family have traveled far and wide to advance her soccer career. When McClellan tried to get involved in the Olympic development program her first time, she was not picked for the team.
“We [McClellan and family] were devastated when I didn’t get picked. I’ve always had this dream, to play soccer professionally. I never gave up hope because I knew God would make a way.”
A few days later, the coach of that team called McClellan and asked her to come back and try out for the state team. For McClellan, faith has never been lacking.
“I’ve never doubted God. I’ve always had faith. I know that I want to inspire young girls. I’ve had setbacks. We fail our way to success. In failures and struggles is when you are made. Work ethic and character matter the most.”
After the first initial setback, McClellan had another setback her sophomore year.
Most people know that sophomore year is the year for soccer college recruitment. So when McClellan was cut from her team her sophomore year, she was distraught but never lost hope.
“I still knew that God had a plan. After all of this I knew he had a plan.”
When in the spring of her sophomore year, McClellan received an email from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette soccer coach, she was over the moon.
“The coach asked me to come to their soccer camp. They said they needed me there. So, I went. The coach offered me a position as a freshman.”
To complete her high school diploma, the Southside senior is now taking five classes in one semester. She will finish her diploma prior to the spring 2019 soccer season. After McClellan graduates from Southside High, she will pack up and heading down to start classes in January of 2019.
The school’s administration will allow McClellan to come back for her senior prom as well as the graduation ceremony, so she will have an opportunity to be a normal high schooler.
To help pay for the giant leap to Louisiana, McClellan has received scholarships for both academic and athletic achievements. McClellan is third in her graduating class.
McClellan’s parents have been very supportive of her and her endeavors.
“I don’t know anyone who works harder than Grace,” said Dr. Mike McClellan, Grace’s father. “It’s so refreshing to see someone so young like Grace do so much.”
Being the parents of a successful soccer player is difficult at times, especially when one thinks of all the traveling involved.
“The hardest part is watching her go through the struggles,” said Leslie McClellan, Grace’s mother. “It is hard to see her hurt during the setbacks. We’ve never given up on her dreams. I’m proud of her. Her faith strengthens me.”
After high school graduation, McClellan plans to attend University of Louisiana at Lafayette. After that, McClellan says it is just a waiting game. McClellan hopes to play professionally in the Youth National Team. After that, McClellan hopes to play for the Olympic female soccer team.