Photo of Ben Swanson in uniform

As they took roll on April 22, teachers at Grove City High School noticed that Ben Swanson’s seat was empty… again. But the junior had another excused absence.
   Swanson, who, at 17, became the youngest player signed by Columbus Crew SC last October, was on a plane headed to Medugorje, Bosnia and Herzegovina to participate in three international friendlies with the United States Under-18 National Men’s Soccer Team.
  “I found out (I was being called up) about three weeks ago. I had to contact my school and they’ve been great with everything and (Crew SC sporting director and head coach Gregg Berhalter) was all for it,” said Swanson, whose team played against Siroki Brijeg on April 25 and the Bosnia U-18s on both April 28 and April 30 during its nine-day stay. “It’s definitely an honor and you’re excited to represent your country.
  “It’s an opportunity for me to develop as a player and play against some of the best teams in the world. When you get called up with the national team, no matter what age group it is, there’s a little bit of a swagger in your walk. I’m excited for it.”
  The trip marks the 28th international call-up across all age levels for the midfielder. He has been tagged for duty with the U-18 team three times. He joined the team for a camp in Marbella, Spain from Dec. 11-20, and served as a captain in a 2-1 victory over Germany's U-18s Dec. 17. Last summer, he played in the Lisbon International tournament in Portugal and the International Tournament of Vaclav Jezek in Zlin, Czech Republic.

  Even without the international call-ups, Swanson has been missing a lot of school over the last three years.
  Swanson spent his freshman year training in the U.S. Soccer Residency Program in Bradenton, Fla. and then returned to Grove City as a sophomore.
  After being signed by Crew SC, Swanson spends his mornings training with the Black and Gold at the EAS Training Center in Obetz and then dashes back to Grove City for classes in the second half of the day. In the evening, he takes a few courses online so he can stay on track to graduate early next year.
  Although he hasn’t had any field time with Columbus yet, his signing has made him a bit of a classroom celebrity. Swanson said he gets a kick out of seeing a couple of his classmates walking down the hallways of the high school wearing a Crew SC jersey with SWANSON on the back.
  “The people I’ve grown up with and my best friends are used to it,” Swanson said. “But some of the other people who know me through school are a little weirded out about it, I guess.”
  “The best part is being able to live two different lives. I get to go to high school with the friends I’ve grown up with and be a professional at the same time. Not many people get a chance to do that.
  This is something Swanson has dreamed about since he started playing for the Crew Juniors when he was eight.
  “I guess I always wanted to be a professional athlete,” he said. “ I always had a passion for soccer. I had an opportunity so I thought why not go all in for it?
  “I was really excited. It was a great opportunity. (Berhalter) said ‘This is the plan we have for you.’ I wanted to get a head start and this was the perfect place for me.”
  When he first started training with Crew SC, Swanson admitted feeling a little out of place. While his teammates were concerned about their professional careers, Swanson’s friends were still worried about passing their English midterms.
  According to Swanson, the biggest thing he’s had to overcome is stepping out of his comfort zone.
  “You’re stepping into a locker room of grown men and you’re just a 17-year-old,” Swanson said. “(I remember) the fitness level and the strength of all the other guys. That first training session was super intense. Afterward I was going ‘This is what it means to be a pro.’
  “You have to go on the field and do your job.  You have to overcome that.”

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