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US-born Jessica Osborne chases dream of playing for England

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(Courtesy of Jessica Osborne)

Jessica Osborne is a typical American teenager.

Osborne is active on social media with TikTok and Instagram accounts. One Direction songs dominate her playlist.

But inside this All-American girl beats the heart of a lion — Three Lions, in fact.

Despite being born in the Lowcountry region of South Carolina, Osborne’s childhood has had a distinctive English flavor to it. The daughter of English parents, Osborne grew up watching the English Premier League with hopes of one day representing her mother and father’s country and wearing the nation’s trademark Three Lions logo.

The Pinewood Prep School (Summerville, S.C.) defender’s dream became a reality this March when she played for England’s U-17 women’s national soccer team in the UEFA Euro qualifying tournament.

Osborne was eligible for the opportunity because her parents, Andrew and Gail, are originally from England. Andrew, 57, had been a striker in Nottingham Forest F.C.’s youth academy program during the late 1970s, while Gail has coached high school soccer in South Carolina since 2005.

“Soccer has always been in Jessica’s blood,” said Gail Osborne, also the head girls’ soccer coach at Pinewood Prep. “Jessica grew up around the game. Her brother played, so she was always going to his games. Obviously, she would love the opportunity to play for the U.S. if that opportunity ever came up, but for some reason playing for the Three Lions has always been her goal.”

“When I was walking through the airports with the English warm-up suits on, with the Three Lions on it, it was like a dream come true for me,” said Osborne, who has verbally committed to play for Auburn beginning in the fall of 2023. “It was surreal. It was so amazing. It’s something I know I’ll never forget. To have the opportunity to play against the best players from every country in Europe was special and I learned a lot, on and off the field.”

In February, the junior got a call from the English coaching staff inviting her for a tryout across the pond. She spent five days competing against the best players from England.

With her fearless style of play, Osborne quickly earned the respect of the English coaching staff and her new teammates.

“They were at the end of their playing cycle, so the team had been together for about a year,” said Osborne, who led Pinewood Prep to the 2021 SCISA state title. “At first, I’m sure they were like, ‘Who is this American girl?’ But by the end of the week, they had welcomed me, and I felt like I was part of their family. I made some really good friends when I was over there.”

Her new English teammates were eager to hear about all things American.

“The English girls were asking her about American slang and jargon,” Gail said. “They exchanged playlists. They were looking at her Instagram account and realizing she lived near the beach. They thought Jessica was so lucky because it’s so warm in Charleston.”

Osborne had previously been to England a handful of times with her parents, visiting relatives and seeing the sights around London. This was more of a business trip. After breaking camp with the team and earning one of 20 spots on the final roster, Osborne flew to Krakow, Poland for international play. It was a tense period as Russia had just invaded Ukraine, which shares a border with Poland.

“I won’t lie, it was kind of scary just thinking about it, but the English coaches did a great job of making us feel very safe,” Osborne said. “We were in our own little bubble and just focused on playing soccer.”

Osborne made an immediate impact on the Three Lions, starting two matches and appearing in another game. England went 2-1 in the qualifier, beating Poland and Croatia, but fell to France and failed to advance to the next round of play this summer.

Osborne said the international style of play, vastly different from anything she has experienced in the United States, made her a better player.

“It’s much more physical and a lot faster,” Osborne said. “It’s very demanding physically and mentally. In addition to the training and games, we spent a lot of time in the classroom between matches, breaking down film and making sure we all were on the same page.”

Osborne, who won a second straight SCISA 3A state title with Pinewood Prep earlier this month, has already been invited back to the English U-18 team for the next cycle, which will take place either this summer or in September.

Andrew Miller has covered high school sports since 1982. Before joining The Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier in 1989, he graduated from the University of South Carolina with a degree in journalism.