BY BRAD LOCKE
As the stage grows wider and the spotlight brighter, George Fradenburg keeps taking his game higher.
Though he just turned 15 on March 26, the Tupeloan is a member of the U.S. Soccer Under-17 national team. The home-schooled Fradenburg spent six weeks this past spring in Bradenton, Fla., taking part in the team's residency program along with 39 other players.
He was the fifth-youngest of the group, which would seem to make him a longshot to make the 22-man roster for the 2009 FIFA U-17 World Cup, to be played in Nigeria (Oct. 10-Nov. 1).
Kevin Adams would not make that assumption.
"For them to invest the money and the time to have him there, I think he has a great shot," said Adams, the director of Mississippi's Olympic Development Program. "I just think he's a very mature kid."
Fradenburg has always been precocious on the soccer pitch. He's been known to outplay opponents four or five years his senior. He played on the Tupelo Futbol Club U-16 squad as a 13-year-old.
A left back and left midfielder, Fradenburg is currently a lithe 5-foot-9, 140-pounder who has had no trouble adjusting to the speed of the game, which for him reached a new level in Bradenton.
He trains with former Mississippi State wide receiver Fred Hadley and has been clocked in the 40-yard dash at 4.45 seconds. Again, he's just 15.
"My speed of play has gotten faster, and I have to stay up with (older) guys physically," Fradenburg said. "I believe I've kept up with that."
Fradenburg is becoming a veteran on the national and international scene. He was part of the U.S. U-14 team and is still a member of the U-15 squad, which he accompanied to Spain last month. He's also played in Mexico, California and Costa Rica.
On Friday, he will join his U-17 teammates in Chicago to begin a nine-day stretch of training and competition. After that, the cut will be made for a summer showcase in Greensboro, N.C. That group will then travel to Uruguay and Argentina.
Players not chosen for the trip are still on the team.
Assuming he's invited back to the residency for the fall and spring, Fradenburg will then vie for a Cup roster spot.
"I'm prepared for it," Fradenburg said.
And he doesn't mean just physically. Being so young and so good can beget countless problems, but Fradenburg has been able to keep his spiritual base intact.
He was among several players in Bradenton to meet for a regular Bible study, and the staff there noted this was the most churched U-17 group to come through there.
"I stay with a group of Christian guys," he said, "and we all try to encourage each other to do the right stuff."
Fradenburg is only the second Mississippian to reach this point with the national team - Justin Mapp, who plays with Chicago of MLS, was the other.
His ultimate goal, of course, is making the Men's National Team. He might do so sooner than expected.
Robert Ziegler, a writer for TopDrawerSoccer.com and director of communications for the United States Football Club, closely follows the national teams.
Fradenburg has caught his eye.
"He's been noticed earlier than most of those in his age group, and the fact that he can play on the left side of the defense is a big bonus," Ziegler said in an e-mail. "He's a gifted athlete and seems to have a maturity beyond his years, both of which will be a big help to him as he adapts to a new environment and new challenges.
"You can't predict the future, but he's definitely in the mix."