Coral Secondary football captain dreams of representing Singapore
Jia Jie hopes to play football for S'pore
He fell in love with football after catching a game on television seven years ago, and he wanted to be as good as the players he saw.
While he has a long way to go in terms of his development as a football player, Lai Jia Jie is at least already a champion.
The captain of Coral Secondary School's C Division football team (above) led his side to a 1-0 victory over Jurongville Secondary School in the Schools National final last month.
Speaking to The New Paper recently, Coral's teacher-in-charge of football, Khairil Aziz, singled out Jia Jie for his resilience.
"The boys had lost to Victoria School in the East Zone final on penalties, and Jia Jie boosted their morale to ensure that they remained focused for the Nationals," said Khairil.
"He has also put a lot of effort into improving himself since last year, and the players really respect him for that."
When he first started out, Jia Jie found himself outmuscled by bigger players.
"Most of my friends were footballers and I used to be quite envious of them as they could play football very well, and I wanted to be as good as them," said the 1.66m-tall centre back.
"But I'm small, so when I was facing the big guys, I had to find a way to overcome them and try not to be scared of them.
"I worked on my speed, learning to think faster and be quicker, so that I could outsmart my opponents."
Coral avenged their heartbreaking defeat by Victoria School in the National semi-finals, beating the East Zone champions 2-0. And they made no mistake in the final.
Just three weeks after their title triumph, Jia Jie helped his school finish third in the Schools National floorball tournament.
He was persuaded to join the team by his floorball-playing classmates earlier this year, despite having played the sport only during PE lessons.
While Khairil was initially against the Secondary 2 student pulling double duty, he relented on one condition.
"When he decided to join the floorball team, I told him he could only continue if he proved that he could cope with his studies as well - and he has indeed proven himself," he said.
"He is a good student, and he is definitely well-liked by everyone in school."
Even though he has shown a raw talent in handling a floorball stick, Jia Jie has grander dreams in football. The defender hopes to one day represent Singapore at the South-east Asia (SEA) Games.
He watched the national Under-23s beat Cambodia 3-1 at the SEA Games here in June, and was impressed, even though the Young Lions eventually failed to progress to the knock-out stages.
Looking ahead, he said: "It will be a dream come through to represent Singapore in such international competitions."