Former Hibs kid Jack Verth accepted it was time to move on when told his time at Easter Road was up, but even he probably didn’t envisage ending up more than 3000 miles away on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
However, as former team-mates Sam Stanton, Alex Harris, Jordon Forster and Danny Handling begin to make their mark in the Scottish Premiership, 21-year-old Verth is making a name for himself in the United States.
As captain he led Burlington County College Barons to their most successful season in almost two decades, an achievement which resulted in the boy from Broxburn being the first from his college to be named an “All-American” since 1996.
Moreover, the central defender is proving to be just as successful in the classroom as on the “soccer” pitch, a clutch of straight As in his psychology studies leading to the offer of a full scholarship from Rutgers University in New Jersey, which will result in him travelling the length and breadth of the States to represent his new educational establishment.
Admitting his new lifestyle is worlds apart from those daily training sessions at East Mains, the former youth player told the Evening News: “It was a big blow to be told I was being released. I’d grown up a Hibs fan and was desperate to play for the club. But I had three great years with Hibs, the time of my life.
“Jordon Forster and I played centre-half together, Sam, Alex, Danny and Ross Caldwell were all in the team. It was a great time. I still keep in touch with what’s happening, and it’s great to see them doing so well and for Sam and Danny to be in the Scotland Under-21 side.
“Unfortunately that wasn’t to be for me, but it’s a sad fact of life – not just at Hibs, but every club in the country – that youngsters will find themselves in the same position I was in.”
Determined to continue playing football but realising he needed “something to fall back on”, Verth’s interest in moving to America was sparked by James McDonaugh, Hibs’ head of academy coaching, bringing the possibility of a scholarship to his attention.
He said: “Obviously it was a big decision to take. I sat down with my mum and dad and discussed my options, but I just felt this was the best for me. It was maybe hardest for my dad because I couldn’t remember the last time he had missed watching me play, either for Hutchison Vale or Hibs. So he, perhaps, took a bit more convincing, but they both came out here in September, saw a few of my games, saw how happy I am and, I think, they loved it too.”
Although very much the new kid on the block, Verth found himself captain of the college team within weeks having impressed head coach Craig Dewar, a fellow Scot who had followed the same path in the past and was a player when the team last reached the finals of the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCCA) championship in 1996.
Dewar, who hails originally from Irvine, said: “It was a no-brainer to make Jack captain right away. The guys here can only play college football for two years so we are constantly rebuilding, it’s not as if we can build a team over five or six years. Jack’s qualities were obvious, good with the ball at his feet, unreal in the air, just the sort of player we were looking for.”
Apart from having to adjust to attending classes once again – although in common with other young players at Hibs, he completed an HNC in sports coaching in a partnership with Telford College – Verth had to learn a whole new language; soccer rather than football, a uniform rather than a strip and scrimmage games rather than bounce matches.
But Verth has embraced the American way of life, saying: “It’s such a melting pot with students from something like 50 different countries at the college. Manhattan is only an hour away, but at the same time you can get away from it all if you want. Sports is a big thing, American football is huge, you can go and watch it, basketball and all the other sports.
“But it’s the ability to combine football and my studies which was the big attraction when back home it tends to be one or the other. It might have been hard to adjust at first – and my team-mates still can’t understand me when I get angry and talk faster – but it’s been the right thing for me to do. Obviously you miss your family, although I was home at Christmas. Irn-Bru was also another miss, but I’ve managed to find somewhere I can get it.”
While he may be on the other side of “the Pond”, Verth still harbours hope of returning to Scotland and professional football, pointing to how former Falkirk, Hearts, Everton, Rangers and Scotland star Davie Weir completed his studies in the States before carving out a remarkable career.
He said: “There’s been a lot of examples of players studying here and then having a career in Britain, I imagine the vast majority of American players in Britain at the moment went through the exact same process. Davie Weir had an incredible career for so many years, so it shows coming home to play again isn’t unrealistic as long as you work hard.”
For now, though, Verth is concentrating on completing his degree, already enthused by the prospect of moving to Rutgers University for the next two years, but, he admitted, with a host of happy memories of Burlington and especially the run to the NJCCA championship.
He said: “There are 300 junior colleges nationwide in the competition. Obviously the distances and expense involved means it’s broken down into districts, then regions and then the finals. That meant playing in New Jersey, then the North East district in Syracuse away up in New York State near the Canadian border, which meant a five-hour drive, and then down to Tyler in Texas, which is a four hour flight away.
“It was an exacting few months for us and we arrived back from Syracuse on the Sunday night and were on the plane to Texas the following Thursday where all the games were shown live on the internet.”
Burlington ended the season ranked the 11th Division One team in the country, Verth’s performances earning him that “All-American” tag which coach Dewar put into context. He said: “Jack’s the first player from the college to be so named since 1996 when I was playing and to be one of the top 11 players in the country at this level is a fantastic accolade.
“Going all the way to the national championship is something I’ll never forget – and I’m sure Jack won’t forget it either.”
Now, though, the time is nearing for Verth to move on again, to face a fresh challenge at Rutgers University. He said: “I’m waiting on my grades, but I’ll move up there in the summer.
“It’s going to be a really big challenge. It’s a Division One university, really high standards where all the students are athletes. The facilities there are incredible. I’ve already been up for a look and our whole athletics building would probably fit in their gym. It’s going to be exciting, playing football all over the States, so I am really looking forward to it.”