After three years of competition in the Premier Development League, South Georgia Tormenta FC is making the jump to the professional ranks as it will begin 2019 as a charter member of the newly-created United Soccer League Division 3.
Tormenta was the first franchise to be announced as a member of USL D3 and can now also lay claim to the first player signed to a contract in the league.
Josh Phelps has spent his last two summers in Statesboro playing for Tormenta. He established himself as a mainstay on the back line in 2017 and — as a team captain — helped lead the squad to its first U.S. Open Cup appearance and its first PDL playoff game this past season.
Tormenta's season ended more than a month ago, but Phelps was on hand to receive the good news in person as he also works in Tormenta's front office as the club's ticket sales manager.
"I walked into the office and (team president Darin Van Tassell) was already in there, waiting for me," Phelps said. "He talked about how we made history as the first club named to the new league and then said that I was going to be another part of history because I was going to be the first player to sign with the league."
Every good team has a steady defense to rely on and that seems to be the line of thought Tormenta FC took when locking down its first professional contract.
Standing tall at 6-foot-4 and weighing in just shy of 200 pounds, Phelps has the strength, athleticism and durability to mark top strikers while clearing the box and dominating aerial balls nearing his goal.
Phelps made a name for himself early in his hometown of Queensland, Australia where he starred for his high school squad. He made the long trip over to the United States to play collegiate soccer and picked up all-conference and all-tournament honors while playing for a pair of conference champions in two years at Thomas College in Maine.
Phelps finished his college career with UNC-Pembroke where he served as a team captain. His first experience with the PDL came as a member of the South West Virginia King's Warriors, which was coached at the time by current Tormenta head coach John Miglarese.
Phelps followed Miglarese south for the 2016 season and the pair will be together for a third straight season as Tormenta has already announced that Miglarese will serve as the USL side's head coach.
"It's a dream come true," Phelps said of signing his first professional contract. "It's something that you think about growing up and spend a lot of time working towards."
Phelps also noted that his hard work was only part of the battle. He appreciates the support that he has had from friends and family, even when he moved to, literally, the other side of the earth to chase his dreams.
"I was able to talk to my parents on FaceTime," Phelps said. "That was a special moment.
"And when I came home, my fiancee knew something was going on. I guess I couldn't hide the smile on my face."
Tormenta is expected to name multiple additional signings in the near future.
The USL D3 season will begin in March and stretch throughout the summer.
As of right now, nine clubs are signed up to compete in the inaugural season of the league, including reserve teams for Major League Soccer sides Toronto FC and Orlando City.
Many players competitng in the league next season will be like Phelps in that they'll be playing out their first season as a professional.
The stress and demands of maintaining good enough form to command a paycheck is a situation that can be intimidating for first-timers. Phelps admits that it will definitely be a new experience, but he is glad that he will go through it with a club that he is already familiar with.
"A lot of times, if you're trying to earn a contract, you might only get a quick look at what the team is like," Phelps said. "Here at Tormenta, I know I'm at home. I've seen how the club operates and how the fans embrace us. It's going to be a great opportunity and I can't wait to get started."