Upright upbringing tops off his talent High schools: Calvert Hall's Cam Letke credits his mother's love and support for making him the determined soccer player he is.

October 01, 1997|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

What comes naturally to Cam Letke on the soccer field -- his speed and ability to take over a game -- his coach says are "a gift from God." How he employs those skills to determine his future will be his gift to his mother.

"A lot of the places she kept me from going and the things she kept me from doing, they would turn out bad for the people who did them," said Letke, 17, a Calvert Hall senior and Dundalk resident. "There have been all kinds of temptations, but I won't go into any instances. Let's just say she was always right."

Divorced a few months after Cam's birth, Debbie raised him and older sister Courtney, 19, as a single parent. She always worked full-time as a secretary for the Baltimore County police department while simultaneously holding down several part-time jobs -- a stressful task for someone with a heart ailment that requires her to take three different pills.

"There's been a lot of years spent struggling, financially. I had a lot of help from my parents [Doris and Bob Dugent]. Life's always revolved 100 percent around my kids," said Debbie Letke.

"It was dropping them off at school and games [Cam started soccer at age 3], paying baby sitters, having them [kids] at work with me after school or at my parents," she said. "I'd work sometimes 16-hour days, but never left the kids home alone."

Debbie Letke says she was a tough mother, "always holding the strings and calling the shots."

But Cam rarely challenged her authority.

"My mom's a very loving person: Tough when she has to be, tender when she has to be, always been there for me when I needed support," said Letke, who has recovered from a broken leg three times -- at ages 7, 8 and 9. "What she's taught me about life -- never giving up, being mature and responsible -- that's translated into soccer."

A coach's dream, Letke is the opposition's nightmare: A scorer with an attitude.

"I'll look a guy straight in the eyes and tell 'em: 'I'm gonna score on you, and you're not gonna stop me. I'm just gonna fly by you,' " Letke said. "If the guy stops me, I should be insulted. I'm very arrogant about it, because that's the way a striker needs to be."

On the field, Letke (6 feet 2, 170 pounds) is an unusual amalgam of swiftness and power, grace and savagery.

"He's a throwback to the '70s, where you had those hard-nosed kids from East Baltimore who always came to play hard and could run forever," said Calvert Hall coach Bill Karpovich, a Highlandtown native. "But there weren't many kids back then who had his skill."

A member of the Olympic Developmental Program's regional team, Letke has a shot at the national team as well. Letke combines the teachings of club coach Anthony Adams, ODP coach Bob Rush and Karpovich, who is 412-83-33 over 31 seasons and has sent 40 players into professional soccer.

"From ODP and club soccer, that's where I learned my touch, field vision and awareness. From Karp [Karpovich], I got the physical, attacking, go-forward part," said Letke, the top scorer for the Cardinals (9-1, six shutouts) with nine goals and three assists. "People can have every move in the book, but it's no good if you can't attack."

Scoring is Letke's forte. He netted 21 goals with 13 assists to earn All-Metro honors last fall, leading Calvert Hall to a 21-0-1 record with 13 shutouts, a No. 1 area ranking and a No. 7 national ranking in USA Today.

Letke, a 3.0 student who scored 980 on the SAT, is considering scholarship offers from numerous programs, most notably Clemson, Penn State, Richmond and Maryland.

"Cam's a Division I soccer player, without a doubt. He's got a great work rate and can do things in combination like a Rob Elliott [1988] or a Tim Wittman [1980]," said Karpovich, referring to two of the six Calvert Hall players to receive All-Metro Player of the Year honors from The Sun. "He'll do the dirty work, the creative stuff -- this kid's got it all. He can take his game as far as he wants."

Curley was dominating Calvert Hall in last November's league title game when Letke beat the opposing keeper to a ball from teammate Brett Wagner -- who slid a low pass into the penalty box from 12 yards out -- and buried the game-winner with 5: 18 to play.

"He's an intense competitor who plays with a lot of grit. And it's very difficult to mark him or deny him the ball because he works so hard off the ball," said Curley coach Pep Perrella. "He's going to be effective because he's not afraid to do the little things, like go back to midfield and win a ball. He's a game-winner."

Last spring, Letke scored 90 percent of his team's goals en route to the ODP regional title.

In July, against a Massachusetts team in the club regionals, "We were down, 2-0, at halftime, and my coach, Anthony Adams, was reaming us out," Letke said.

So Letke did what came naturally: He took over the game.

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