A GIFTED Hartlepool teenager has conquered America – and he’s not finished yet.
Talented footballer Tom Gavin, son of former Leeds United and Pools player, Mark, has just been crowned national soccer champion with Belhaven University from Jackson, Mississippi.
And the 19-year-old – a former High Tunstall pupil – has even been named in the all-star side from the entire NAIA Championship.
“It’s been an incredible year,” Tom told SportMail from his Elwick Road home having returned to the town for a holiday.
“No-one expected us to win the tournament but, as the season went on, we thought amongst ourselves that we had a good chance.
“There are 16 conferences with 10 teams in each and we qualified from ours.
“The last 16 teams went to the finals in Montgomery in Alabama.
“It’s the best university players from across the country and the standard is excellent.
“So it was tough. We got a late winner in the semi-finals and in the final beat our rivals, University of Mobile from Alabama, 2-0 - they had already beaten us in the regular season so we knew what we were up against.
“It was only the second time Belhaven have won the National Championship in 40 years and we did it in my first year with them.
“I played every game and was even named in the All-Tournament Team, which was just amazing.
“My mam and dad (Mark and Joanne) managed to see every game over the internet as well so it was a proud moment knowing they were watching.”
In the final, central-midfielder Tom was up against a pair of players who have been drafted to play in Major League Soccer next season.
And that, he says, remains his ultimate ambition.
“The dream for all the boys is to be drafted in the MLS,” the ex Eldon Grove Primary schoolboy added.
“I’m going back this month to play in the PDL, which is where the best players from across the country go to play.
“There are always scouts from England watching.
“So the dream is to go pro, whether that’s in America in the MLS or back here in England.
“I’m only 19 so I’ve got plenty of time.
“I’ve got three years left, I’m studying sports science, and it’s the best decision I ever made to go over there.”
He went on: “The lifestyle is 100 times better. The weather for starters is so much nicer.
“We’ve got the best training facilities, the best hotels, the best travel – it’s like being at a pro club.”
Tom, who moved to Hartlepool when he was four years old when his dad signed for Pools, was playing for Horden two years ago when he first became aware of scholarships in America.
“One of the lads I was playing with at Horden was thinking about going to America and a guy came to watch one of the games,” he recalls. “I spoke to my mam and dad and they thought it would be a good idea.
“I played in a showcase game in Manchester and I got an offer from a team in Texas, Tyler Junior College.
“It didn’t work out for me there and I didn’t really play.
“I moved to Belhaven in August last year and I’ve never looked back.
“I have loved every minute of it and to win the National Championship in my first season was unbelievable – let’s hope we can win it again next year.”
Beyond that, who knows?
Tom could well follow in the footsteps of his dad at Victoria Park.