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When Eric Diehl was in seventh grade at John T. Baker Middle School, he tried out for the school’s boys’ soccer team. Having been an avid recreational league soccer player since kindergarten, he figured making the team would just be a formality.

But Diehl was cut and it proved to be a turning point in the youngster’s playing tenure.

Now, he is a junior and three-year starter for the Hood College men’s soccer program and will enter his final collegiate season in the fall with a chance to become the Blazers all-time leading scorer. The 6-foot, 170-pound Damascus High School graduate earned first-team All-Commonwealth Conference honors last year for his performance on the field. The computer science and mathematics major was also named to the Middle Atlantic Conferences’ fall academic honor roll.

“To see him start from square one and do all the things it takes is so rewarding as a father and [coach],” said Ken Diehl, Eric’s father who coached his son’s recreational teams from third through seventh grade. “It’s been awesome seeing how much he’s blossomed as a leader in the sport, classroom and life.”

After Eric was cut from his middle school team, Ken Diehl, who is currently an assistant coach at Damascus High, Baker’s head coach and president of the Damascus Soccer Club, and Eric discussed his future playing opportunities. They opted to increase the level of competition and coaching caliber.

“[Getting cut] was the first time I was actually denied something related to soccer,” said Eric, who is third all-time record holder in goals (17), assists (14) and total points (48) in Hood College history. “I didn’t think I would have any issue making it. … It was kind of eye-opening.”

Later that year, Eric joined a club team, the Seneca Strikers (now Maryland Rush Montgomery), in the National Capital Soccer League. He later tried out for a spot on the Potomac Soccer Club’s U-16 United States Soccer Federation Development Academy team. He did not make it, but it led to a roster spot on the Potomac Cougars ’93 team.

It was with the Cougars where Eric met his current college and longtime area soccer coach Brian Wall. The Cougars won the U-17 Maryland State Cup Championship in the spring of 2010 when Eric, who also played two-years on varsity for Damascus, was a starting midfielder.

“It’s been pretty exciting to see his growth as a young man,” said Wall, a technology education teacher at Damascus who has previously coached the Swarmin’ Hornets boys’ soccer team. “... He’s one of the best [one-on-one] players I’ve seen. I’d rank him as one of the best college players in the region whether it be Division I, II or III. He’s got very good technical skills and acceleration skills.”

Added Eric: “Each team was a jump up in level of training and commitment.”

Eric, who has three younger brothers, said he chose Hood, a Division III school, over Division I programs Mount Saint Mary’s and Maryland for the opportunity to play right away.

“To be honest, I never even thought of Hood until Coach Wall introduced it to me,” said Eric, who trained with the now defunct Real Maryland franchise over the summer. “Once he did and I looked into it, I loved it. I would’ve just sat on the bench at Maryland or Mount Saint Mary’s.

“This all has really kind of been a dream realized since I look at [getting cut] as motivation for everything. … I’m just glad to be playing soccer.”

kzakour@gazette.net