TAMPA — Every day on his way to work, Joe Donoho drives by his old high school, the same path he took weekday mornings as a teenager.
It has been a long ride back home, a path that has seen its share of hurdles, but Donoho finally feels he's right where he belongs — on the soccer field.
"I couldn't ask for anything better," Donoho said.
About two blocks away from Jesuit High, where Donoho was a standout basketball player, is Steinbrenner Field. Donoho now plays there as a member of the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
"It's definitely a surprise for me to come in and be able to have success," he said. "I caught a break, and a lot of times, that's really what you need to be successful."
The 25-year-old has started the past four games at outside back for Tampa Bay, which hosts the Puerto Rico Islanders tonight, and scored goals in his first two starts.
Not bad for a player whose first love was basketball and who walked away from soccer two years ago. Until a few months ago, he had traded in his cleats for a 9-to-5 job, working for his father in his GEICO insurance office.
Donoho played club soccer from age 10 through high school for the Tampa Bay Kickers club (now HC United), but when he arrived at Jesuit, which has one of the top soccer programs in the bay area, he chose basketball (both sports are played during the winter season).
"Joe was one of the best players I've ever coached," Jesuit basketball coach Neal Goldman said. "Everyone knew he was a really good soccer player, too, but he just loved the competition in basketball. In the end, he was very resistant, but he knew his best opportunities were in soccer."
When colleges came calling, Donoho quickly realized that 6-foot-3 swingmen were a dime a dozen. He was only receiving offers to play basketball at Division II schools, but the I-A schools wanted him for soccer. He played soccer at Rutgers for two years, then an Achilles injury forced him to redshirt. He transferred to Bradley in Peoria, Ill., and by his senior season was an All-American.
He heard whispers that he might get drafted into MLS out of college, but it never happened. He thought his career was over. He played recreational soccer and joined the Jesuit alumni basketball league. He got a job as an insurance agent, but soccer eventually tugged at his heart.
"Being away from it, he missed it," said his mother, Carol. "He wanted to give it a try."
After training at Bradley, he earned a spot practicing with the MLS's Chicago Fire. Donoho said that earned him an invitation to the Rowdies' Tampa combine.
He made his first start two weeks ago in Carolina, scoring a goal. Five days later he scored in Austin. He has excelled as an outside back, even though he had never played the position.
"I've always played center back, so my first game I was so tired in the first half with all the running you do," Donoho said. "I had never played outside back before in my life. I don't even know if Coach (Paul Dalglish) knows that, but I wasn't going to say anything."