Chasing European dreams: Walt Whitman (Md.) alum Jonny Mehrez carving out pro career in Belgium
For the majority of young talented players in the D.C., Maryland and Virginia area, the route into professional soccer usually involves a stint in the college game before they make their first steps as a pro.
However, Bethesda, Maryland native Jonny Mehrez chose to forgo that option and is now in the process of carving himself out a professional career in Europe. A Norwegian-American, Mehrez was a standout midfielder for Walt Whitman High School, with whom he won a Maryland 4A state title in 2009 as a junior.
He also played in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy for Potomac Soccer Association and McLean YSA before departing at the end of the 2010-11 season as an 18-year-old. Having graduated from high school, he started his professional career with the second team of Moss FK in Norway’s second division in the 2011 season.
After an internship with the reserve side that year, Mehrez moved up into Moss’ first team for the 2012 season — Norway’s season runs from April until October, like in the United States — on a permanent basis. However, he could not quite break into the team and moved on a free transfer to KSK Ronse of Belgium, who currently play in the country’s fourth division.
Mehrez was crucial for the Whitman side that won the state championship in 2009, and scored the winning goal in the final as the No. 12-seeded Vikings overcame Urbana High School 1-0 in overtime. His coach with that team, Dave Greene, remembers a very skilled player who had offers from colleges but chose to go a different route.
“He was a wonderful player, very creative, had a great first touch, good speed and played very hard,” Greene told SoccerWire.com. “We have a term here, that he’s a baller, he can play. He’s very good.”
“[Going pro in Europe was] what he wanted to do. I would have liked to see him go to college, I think he’d have done very well but I think he wanted to skip that route and go professional.”
However, in spite of some offers, Greene believes that a number of other colleges were reluctant to make recruiting overtures to Mehrez due to his slight frame.
“He had offers to play [college soccer],” Greene said. “Even at high school his senior year, he was getting taller but he hadn’t quite filled out yet.
“Ultimately with their weight program and if he had filled out, I think he could have played for a top 15/20 men’s program, but he was a little slight of build even at his younger ages but you could see he was going to end up being 5’11” or 6’ tall, but he needed to fill out his frame because he was skinny.”
Whitman’s championship side was very talented in 2009, with Mehrez key in the center of midfield. The Crusaders midfield has played host to a great deal of talent, including Paul Torres, who spent two years with Maryland before also leaving for Europe. Greene says he has been fortunate to coach such a strong side, which at one point in their state championship year had a 2-5-1 record but had lost three of those games in overtime against some of the strongest private schools in the state.
“We had a lot of good talent, but our best players were basically right down the middle of the field, and [Mehrez] was one of those,” Greene said. “I think he complemented our players really well, and he was a junior that year.
“I thought our six best players were better than everybody else’s, including our goalkeeper. He scored the winning goal in the state final, and he was somebody you had to deal with. I thought he was that good, you couldn’t just ignore him on the field. Jonny was a combination of everything.”
This season, Mehrez has appeared in five games for Ronse, all as a substitute. They currently sit in fifth place in Group A of the Belgian fourth division with 10 wins, four ties and five losses from their 19 games so far.
Mehrez and his family did not respond to requests for comment for this article.