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Utica Eisenhower High School retires Justin Meram's No. 9 soccer jersey

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UTICA, Mich. – On the immaculate turf of the Columbus Crew and broadcasted across America in MLS coverage, Justin Meram can be found working his magic as a professional soccer player who has been pivotal in his team's quest for playoffs and a national championship.

It was not magic, however, that got him there. It was his hard work and dedication. Even as a young boy, Meram spent hours on his own training. As a teen, he found himself able to put his hard work to action for his hometown team at Swinehart field, playing for Utica Eisenhower High School.

Meram played at Eisenhower from 2003-2006. He was a 4-year varsity player and was captain in the last two years, helping his team in its only state finals match his sophomore year and going undefeated in the regular season his senior year. He was named Mac Red MVP as well as 1st team All-State his senior year.

Even after his impressive high school career, the Division 1 college teams were not calling. While others may have been discouraged, Meram knew he had to continue to work hard to be able to get to his goal of playing professionally.

He had to accomplish his goal of playing on the collegiate level first. He went on to Yavapai Junior College in Arizona to begin that task. While at Yavapai, he led the junior college team to the NJCAA National Championships both years he attended and was named 2007-2008 National Junior College Player of the Year. In 2012, Justin was honored for his accomplishments and was elected into the National Junior College Player Hall of Fame.

After his first two years of college, the University of Michigan recruited him into the NCAA Big Ten Division 1 arena. While at U of M, he continued having a place to work hard and show his talents while helping another team move on to a run in the National Championship Tournament. He earned all Big Ten 2nd Team during both of his years as a Wolverine.

The Columbus Crew were impressed with his accomplishments and wanted to make sure he was playing with them and not against them as they drafted him 15th overall in the MLS super draft his senior year. This is Meram's fourth year as a professional soccer player. He continues to validate the Crew's decision to draft him as he has 7 goals and 4 assists this year while his team is showing strong toward the playoffs.

Read more: Michigan trio excels with pro soccer's Columbus Crew

Throughout all of his levels of competition, his honors and his drive to help bring each of his teams championships and success, he has not forgotten where it all began and who helped him get to where he is today.

His childhood team and his community have not forgotten him, either, and honored him Wednesday night by retiring his jersey No. 9.

"Justin, you have left a legacy at Eisenhower and continue to build on that legacy as a professional. Future generations will look up to your No. 9 and hear stories of how you frustrated opposing teams in any of their plans to contain you. Eisenhower High School is proud of your efforts, Justin, both on and off the field. The Eisenhower Community wishes you continued success," read a statement during the retirement ceremony.

Video: Utica Eisenhower retires Justin Meram's No. 9

Meram returns to Utica as often as he can to help in the community and in youth soccer. He holds his J9 soccer camps and makes sure others have the training and ability to dream like he did. His high school coaches were a big part of helping him have that platform to do that when he was a kid. Among them are coach Chris Corteg (freshman year), coach Hickey (sophomore year) and coach Josh VanHouten, who headed up the team during Meram's junior and senior years.

Coach Corteg told Meram as a freshman that he would be a 4our-year varsity player. He watched and helped Meram even as he became Athletic Director after coaching. Corteg was honored to be able to be there Wednesday night and to have been a part of Meram's journey.

"We are very proud of what he has accomplished and he has been a very good representative at Eisenhower and for college athletes," he said.

The high school players all wore special warm up jerseys with "Meram 9" on the back of them. Meram took the time to talk to and work with them before their game during warm-ups. When it was time to put on their uniforms, Meram happily took the time to autograph all of them, and even some players from the opposing Utica team came over and asked for their shirts to be signed.

No. 9 is the first soccer jersey number in Eisenhower history to be retired and it will hang on the wall in the gymnasium for future players to view and realize that their dreams can become a reality, too.

It was an exciting, but humbling, night for Meram. He took in every minute he could to thank all who came out to see and honor him.

"Today was an amazing experience, having my jersey number retired, something that I never thought would happen," he said. "I'm so privileged that my family and all of my coaches throughout my high school career could make it. Coming back to Swinehart field brings back so many memories. Just talking to the guys and being around this group at home is amazing. I am so blessed that they decided to retire my jersey number. I cannot thank the school and everyone enough."

Eisenhower High School stated it best, and the MLS players of the future can attest to this now as they watch him with the Columbus Crew: "No one will wear No. 9 again because no one can wear it just like Justin Meram."