For Johnson, Dieter, next goal is bank shot

Blast: Defenders Lance Johnson and Jason Dieter plan to retire at the end of the season to pursue careers at 1st Mariner Bank, where Blast owner Ed Hale is CEO.


March 16, 2003|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

As a retiring professional athlete, Blast captain Lance Johnson already has plans to sharpen his golf game.

It's not to pass the time or fuel his competitive drive, but more out of necessity as he prepares to move full time into his next playing field - the world of banking.

"What I've been told, when you're out golfing, people tend to let their guard down a little bit. So it's not so much a business meeting as it is two friends playing a round of golf - that's where you can create some good business opportunities," he said.

After 10 years of playing soccer, Johnson, 32, is turning in his uniform at the end of the season for a suit and tie, leaving behind the turf at 1st Mariner Arena for a desk at 1st Mariner Bank. Fellow defender Jason Dieter, also 32 and a 10-year veteran, also is retiring to further pursue his second career at the bank.

Ed Hale - the Blast owner and CEO of 1st Mariner Bank - has given many of his players an option to join his other team, and plenty are cashing in. Tarik Walker, Brett Phillips, Wendell Regis and Danny Kelly are other active Blast players also finding success at the bank.

"These guys have impressive credentials - you're a team player in a tough sport like that, and most of them all have degrees," Hale said. "Considering the pay they get - it's not like basketball, football, baseball or hockey - this is a chance for them to play their sport, have some applause and then step off the field and have some sort of career after."

The Major Indoor Soccer League's in-season salary cap is $300,000 for a team's 20-man roster; additional money can be made by working soccer camps in the summer. Finding another source of income is a must for most players.

Johnson, a Towson University graduate with a degree in biology, has quickly developed a bright future in commercial lending - balancing soccer and loan proposals since Hale regained ownership of the Blast franchise in 1998.

"It started in Ed's office with him saying, `I want to present an opportunity and you can do with it what you want. You can take it and run with it or try it and say you don't like it and walk away,' " Johnson said.

Johnson, who married his fiancee, Janine, in May and has a 7-year-old daughter, Brianna, from a previous relationship, rotated from department to department to get a broad feel of banking and found his niche in commercial lending. He's now an analyst working on becoming a loan officer, which could produce a six-figure salary.

"Lance is a self-starter, and that's what commercial lenders are. Nobody tells you what to do. You go find the business, underwrite it, get it approved and get paid for it," said Neil Brownawell, a commercial lending vice president at the bank. "After seeing how he was the first six months, I could understand how he intuitively came to the fact that, `Hey, I can manage myself, I can do this on my own and I can get it accomplished.' "

Effectively juggling his family life, soccer and banking, Johnson said he will miss his time with the Blast, but leaves with 10 solid seasons in the books and a new challenge waiting.

"The commercial lending side is the highest risk, highest reward, and that's my personality - I want to be where things are happening," he said.

Dieter, a psychology major at UMBC, might evolve into a branch manager.

It all adds up to a win-win situation.

"I feel good about it and they feel good about it," Hale said. "They feel like they have something to look forward to after their soccer days are over and right now, the bank is doing real well."

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