CLEARWATER - Brian Shriver wouldn't go so far to say he's the best player in the county.
He's not. Shriver, a junior striker at Clearwater, is good, but there are others who are equally skilled, even stronger.
That fact doesn't take away from his November trip to Spain, where he trained and was evaluated by Valencia, one of the top professional clubs in Europe.
"I figured it was the experience of a lifetime," Shriver said.
Playing professional soccer is the opportunity Shriver, 16, has always wanted. It seems to be a near reality.
Shriver, his mother, Jana Shriver, and grandmother went to Spain for about two weeks before Thanksgiving. Shriver speaks enough Spanish to communicate. He spent five days training with the 17- and 18-year-olds. Coaches critiqued him, and they also praised him, telling him he played older than his years.
"It was a great experience," Shriver said. "I learned how to play a lot faster soccer. The movement of the ball was faster than anything I've ever seen."
Valencia has opened the door for him to return this summer and resume training with the 17- and 18-year-olds, who can make more than $100,000 a year, said Shriver's father, also named Brian Shriver. The trip was not a tryout because Shriver wants to maintain his amateur status. He also wouldn't be paid by Valencia.
"It was good to see he could go over there and actually play with these boys," Jana said. "He fit right in."
Shriver was discovered by a scout who saw him playing with his Miami-based club team, Renegades Elite, last summer. His club coach, Fernando Clavijo, has played professional soccer, coached Major League Soccer's New England Revolution and is currently training Haiti's national team. The Shrivers credit Clavijo's connections with the opportunity and exposure their son has received. Shriver also says he has been a little lucky too.
Whether or not Shriver will go back to Spain this summer is up to him. And if he wants to postpone college to play professionally, that's up to him as well. But Shriver, who has a 4.67 GPA, will finish school, his parents say.
"I just try to not really think about it right now," Shriver said. "Not until I have to."
The Shrivers want to make sure he remains an amateur so he can keep the option of playing in college. The Shrivers pay for everything, including all the expenses of the trip to Spain, and they consult their attorneys regularly.
"Whatever he wants to do, we will do it," said Brian Shriver, the father. "We want to make sure we follow all the right rules."
The burden of financing another trip to Spain and paying for his living expenses over the summer is something the Shrivers have to consider.
"It's very hard but we do it, just for that reason," Jana said. "So he could never come back and say to us, "I didn't get the chance to do that.' "