Former VIU soccer star and two-time PacWest male Athlete of the Year, Jared Stephens, found a home with the world’s oldest soccer club. The 23-year-old striker joined Sheffield FC of England’s Evo-Stik League this summer, and has since been loaned to Belper Town FC.

Stephens helped lead the Mariners to a CCAA national title in 2010 and a bronze medal in 2011. He played 16 matches with the Victoria Highlanders before moving to England in Aug.

The Terrace, B.C. native opted to join Sheffield FC over completing his final season of eligibility with the Mariners this fall. While it was a decision he did not take lightly, Stephens is confident he made the right choice.

“I think a major goal of mine after graduation was to travel the world through sport, and I saw this opportunity to travel to Sheffield as a great first step,” Stephens says. “That being said, it was a really tough decision choosing to go abroad over completing my fifth year at VIU. My four years at VIU gave me everything I could ask for and more in a university experience.”

The level of competition is higher in the Evo-Stik League than what Stephens was used to in Canada. “The great wealth of players makes for a fast, performance-based environment, keeping every manager on the hunt to field the best eleven possible,” Stephens says.

“A lot of the older players have made their way down the professional ranks, while the younger players are pushing for their ticket up. This creates a good mix of intelligent vets and athletic, ambitious, [and] young players,” Stephens says.

Sheffield FC is recognized by FIFA as the world’s oldest club in association soccer. Founded in 1857, the city in northern England boasts over 150 years of soccer history. The team is one of only two clubs to be awarded the FIFA Order of Merit for “significant contribution to association football,” which it and Real Madrid received in 2004.

Stephens says soccer is deeply rooted in Sheffield’s culture and economy, something he noticed shortly after arriving in the city. “Even in my short time here I have felt the bursts of emotional highs and lows that comes with professional sport,” Stephens says. “The experience so far has been really enlightening and I’m looking forward to see where I’ll end up.”