NIWOT -- There were more than a few times when pursuing the dream was a tedious, time-consuming affair for Alex and Ben Braman.
The twins were freshman standouts when the Niwot boys soccer team won the 2009 Class 4A state title, but after two seasons with the Cougars the Bramans, along with classmate Jason Pillard, opted to continue their pursuit of Division-I soccer scholarships with the Colorado Rapids Academy.
Instead of rolling out of class on to the practice field, the Bramans often endured commutes of an hour-plus to the Rapids' facility, putting social lives on the backburner while cramming in homework whenever they could.
Then along comes national signing day, and all those sacrifices seem more than worth it.
The Bramans and Pillard were among five Niwot student-athletes to sign national letters of intent on Wednesday, with the Bramans officially joining the program at St. Mary's College in California and Pillard signing with Wake Forest.
Joining the three soccer players in a ceremony in the school's library were quarterback Nathan Merriman, bound for Augustana (S.D.), and softball player Taylor Supino, who signed with Garden City Junior College.
"It gets hard when you have to drive down an hour all the time," Ben Braman said. "Our mom would always drive us down. She made very big sacrifices out of her day to get us to practice. It's definitely worth it. When it gets hard you wonder if it's really what you want to do, but once you get to this stage and you make your commitment, it's definitely worth it."
Although all three soccer players reported some angst having to watch their friends from the stands -- especially during the 2011 season, when an 11th-seeded Cougars squad made an unexpected run into the 4A final four without their former stars -- none of them expressed any regret about their career choices. The trio became some of the biggest supporters of coach Rob Johnson and Niwot soccer, and they relished the opportunity Wednesday to celebrate their milestone moment with their classmates.
"We've worked for this for so long, and the support here is amazing," Pillard said. "We're excited to have all this. I talk to Rob every day and we talk all the time. The Bramans and I have been to games and we've supported the team and every other sport here, too. Even though we didn't get to play with them, we still wanted to be part of the community and help out."
Supino overcame an injury-marred senior season this past fall to provide several key plays during Niwot's postseason run into the Class 4A title game, scoring the only run against D'Evelyn in the Region 5 final before going 2 for 2 with a home run to spark a quarterfinal-round win against Berthoud.
Merriman single-handedly accounted for about 85 percent of Niwot's offense last season, throwing for 2,234 yards and 11 touchdowns. Merriman said he also weighed offers from another Division-II school, CSU-Pueblo, in addition to one Division-I program, Valparaiso.
"It was my official (visit) to Augustana that really sealed the deal," Merriman said. "It was early January, and it felt like home immediately. The coaches were phenomenal people and it was a wonderful feeling. It was tough giving up a D-I offer to go D-II, but I feel like it's in my best interest."
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