‘Strictly Business’ at IMG Academy

Corey Smith playing for Academy Sports Club. (file photo)

Corey Smith never considered himself to be one of the better players when he took up football seriously. But in the past half-decade, he’s constantly put in the work and has become a force to be reckoned with on the field due to his business-like approach for his school team, club side and for the Cayman Islands National U15 Boys Team.

Smith harbours ambitions of becoming a professional football player one day. Now, he’s taken a bold step towards fulfilling that dream. He’s left the comfort of home to embrace an opportunity to sharpen his skills at the prestigious IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.

“It’s a big move for me. It’s not easy because I’m still an island boy but my dream forever was to become a professional footballer. Moving to IMG is huge, but I’m willing to make the sacrifice,” the 15-year-old told CaymanSportsBuzz.com before leaving in January 2018.

That followed his performance at the CONCACAF U15 Boys Championships last summer, which was played at the IMG campus. Smith scored twice and assisted on two other occasions, as the Cayman Islands went undefeated in their four games.

The winger and striker was then invited to take part in the IMG Invitational Cup in December, where he played with a U17 team. He recalled scoring four goals and having five assists in the three games he played. “They liked me from the CONCACAF tournament but I went there again to show my skills and prove myself,” Smith said.

Smith in action for the Cayman Islands at the CONCACAF U15 Championships.

That’s a huge leap from when he started playing. “I was never one of the best footballers at the beginning. I had to work my way up to the top, so it tells me that I’m still improving every day, putting in the work,” he recalled.

Back at home, his club coach at Academy Sports Club, Paul Byles has been brimming with pride to see the opportunity presented to his former player.

“It means a great deal because it goes to show that all of his efforts have come through. He’s been with the club since he was nine or 10 years old and he has always been one of the perfect examples of how to behave and the kind of effort you need to put in,” Byles said.

“We call him ‘Strictly Business Corey’ because he doesn’t let anything bother him and that’s a great attitude. You actually need that because it’s a great feature to take into a new environment.”

The former St Ignatius Catholic School student will finish his high school studies while benefiting from training in a programme that has developed many players who have gone on to play at the collegiate level and even the professional ranks.

“I just hope it develops my game and I can come back here and contribute to the national team. When I come back here, I can show the other boys that we can make it. Even though we’re from a small Caribbean island, we can go off and do big things. We have a lot of good players here and I’m confident that we can go off and do great things,” Smith said.

Corey Smith (file photo)

He’s had more time to think about his dreams of playing in the pro arena and is now aware that there are more options that he initially thought of.  “When I was younger, my dream was to play for a team in the English Premier League but looking at other options, right now my dream is to play in the MLS…any team that wants me, I’ll be happy.”

Bruce Sigsworth, who coached Smith on the national U15 side, said the move to IMG is an excellent opportunity for the teenager to show the work he has been putting in.

“It’s also great exposure and experience for him, not only with IMG because there could be other people watching. They have very large scouting programmes within the US,” Sigsworth said, adding that Smith could draw further benefit from having a United States passport, which could make him more attractive to MLS academies and other development programmes there.

Sigsworth said with the IMG structure, he was looking forward to Smith benefiting from strength and conditioning and other training. He also said he looks forward to having Smith back as a member of the national U17 team when duty calls.

Smith is one of two athletes from the Cayman Islands currently at IMG. Top female junior tennis player, Jade Wilkinson, also joined the Academy in January.

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