Coach Roy ‘Huta’ Ebanks has an admirable zeal for developing his youngsters at Future Sporting Club – not just into accomplished players but, more importantly, into well-rounded, exemplary citizens.
Huta and his coaching staff at Future have done a fine job over the years, steering kids in West Bay towards fulfilling their potential. Many have gone abroad. A group of six Future players were at the Ed Bush stadium last week to talk about their experiences at various places overseas.
Shalisa Barnett, 18, is a scholarship student at Baylor College in Tennessee. Her team’s 19-1 record in winning their state championship made them one of the top college teams in the United States.
The defensive midfielder did remarkably well in her debut season at Baylor, getting more play time than anyone else. “Next season I hope I can always start and we win the state again,” she says. “I’m here till 23 July because from the 28th we have pre-season training.”
Oliver Smith turns 17 in March. He is a striker at the academy of top Portuguese club Sporting Lisbon. In only 12 games he scored 15 times. “It’s been going good, I’ve been there two years,” Smith says. “It’s a great academy to be in and has a lot of prestige throughout football.
“Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani and Luis Figo all started their careers there, so they are known for creating a lot of good footballers and producing talent, so it’s a nice place to be.
“I’m really proud of myself to be from a small island and to have made it this far. I hope people from Cayman can look on my success and use it for themselves as well.”
A big Manchester United supporter, like his dad Henry, Oliver hopes to one day line up for Sporting Lisbon against Alex Ferguson’s side, possibly in the Champions League.
Courtney Duval was at the professional English club Rushden and Diamonds academy but recently got released. The 20-year-old midfielder is nevertheless upbeat as he has a couple of trials lined up with English pro sides.
He did well academically in the United Kingdom, getting his qualifications. Injury blighted his time at Rushden which he feels contributed to not being offered pro forms.
The notorious plain, boring English food was the toughest part of getting used to British culture in his three years there, not, surprisingly the cold weather. Duval also missed terribly his mother Idania Ebanks.
Michael Johnson has been in Cayman’s national team as a central defender. At King’s College in Tennessee under a scholarship he has just obtained a degree in finance and intends to do his master’s in the fall.
Johnson, 21, feels he is good enough to play in the English League One or Two. “I’ve been to England on a football tour when I was younger and seen the level needed,” he says. “At the college we have a lot of English players coming over and I think I could handle League One standard.”
He has played a few semi-pro matches, for Rocket City, in Alabama, and if not for a knee injury felt he would have really impressed.
Jessus Ebanks is a 24-year-old attacking midfielder whose college career in Tennessee has been at King’s and Milligan. He has a tryout with English pro club Gillingham this summer, on the strength of a highlights video he sent them.
Ebanks hopes to graduate in finance by the end of the year then really pursue his dreams.
“On the basis of what my coaches saw on the video, they think I have everything it takes to get to the next level,” he says. “They told me not to give up on my dream and not to worry about my age. Experience comes with age.”
His heading and questioning referee decisions are his weaknesses which he is working hard on improving. “I think I’m a cut above others right now. I try to model my game on the Spanish midfielder Andres Iniesta. I watch him a lot because he too is an attacking player and very versatile.”
Jamaal Ebanks has just turned 17 and completed his first year at Linsly School in West Virginia. Linsly came third in their conference and Ebanks got player of the year, offensive player of the year and was leading scorer with 15 strikes in 14 games.
Ebanks hopes to convince Linsly to come to Grand Cayman for pre-season games. If he doesn’t make it as a player, coaching is an option and outside of football his interests include cooking and history.
Coach Huta is extremely proud of how well his proteges have done. “This is what Future is all about, empowering our young people to further go in life to develop their talents, not just athletically but also academically and socially,” he smiles.
“I want to make the public know that our success is not measured by how many trophies that we can win a season, but how many kids we can save and make them become productive citizens in our community and for our country. There is no value that can be put on top of that.
“That is the motto and emphasis of Future and through that I find that after my kids reach a certain age some of them want to go on and win championships so they go and try to play with the bigger teams in the Cayman Islands.
“But hopefully, one day I will win championships with the kids I develop but my success is not measured on the field of play. That is not our philosophy or what Future Sporting Club is all about.”
Future were relegated from the Premier League last season but Huta remains undaunted. “I am promoting all of my younger players and hopefully we will be a competitive team and if we can get promoted it will be a great success in footballing terms.
“But the most important thing is that I keep the youngsters together and give them a goal to achieve something in life outside of the football pitch.
“Of all the youngsters coming back from abroad, they are all unique in their own way. Oliver did well because he had a lot of injuries at Sporting Lisbon and from an academical aspect we have to be proud of Michael Johnson. He was also captain of his Division Two college side for two years.
“I do lament though that Michael cannot easily get a job in finance here considering we are the fifth biggest financial institution in the world.
“It makes me feel tremendously liberated that I had a little input in mentoring and teaching so that these kids can go on and pursue their own individual careers.”
Huta and his coaching staff at Future have done a fine job over the years, steering kids in West Bay towards fulfilling their potential.