The next time Cameron Behm steps onto the soccer pitch competitively, it will be as a Divison I player.

The Washington Panthers soccer star committed to the Eastern Illinois University Panthers’ soccer program Jan. 11.

Behm, a two-time All-State selection and three-time Mid-Illini Conference All-Conference player, chose the Charleston university over Western Illinois University and Quincy University.

“Ultimately, when I visited Eastern, I knew it would be a good fit for me. The main reason I chose Eastern is because of the coach,” said Behm. “It is important to have a coach that fits personality wise and how I like to play.”

Behm is referring to EIU coach Kiki Lara, who played in the United States top flight of professional soccer, Major League Soccer, for three years in the 2000s.

Lara played midfield professionally; similar to the position that Behm plays.

During his time at Washington, Behm evolved into an accomplished advanced midfielder who attacked opposing defenses.

“(Lara) knows the environment and the play that it takes (to perform at a high level),” said Behm. “I think he can shape players to help them play professional ball. If players want to go on past college, I think he has the ability to shape them.”

In his senior year at Washington, Behm scored 25 goals and dished out 12 assists in 24 games (18-4-2).

The 2016 season was the best year ever for the Panthers soccer program.

Washington won a share of the Mid-Illini Conference championship (with Morton), a regional title and participated in a sectional final for the first time in school history.

“It was huge to accomplish what we did and it was so fun,” Behm said. “Everybody got along, and that had a lot to do in winning those championships. We wish we could’ve gone a little bit further, but we still had a great time.”

Behm was one of 12 seniors on the 2016 team, but coach Jeff Brooks believes that Behm was the heart and soul.

“A lot of our success was because of (Behm’s) leadership,” Brooks said. “We had a great senior class and a lot of leaders, but he was the main guy. He is so talented on the field, but off the field, we will miss his leadership.”

Behm attributes his upbringing in Washington and the coaches he has had over the years for his leadership ability.

“I learned how to be a leader here in Washington,” Behm said. “Throughout soccer and school, leadership is one of the biggest things I have learned here. I just try to be the best leader I can be.”

Eastern Illinois is a member of the Summit League, a Division I athletic conference.

“The Summit League is not an easy league, so it is going to be a constant grind,” Behm said. “You really have to work hard 24/7 and you have to keep your grades up all the time if you want to play.”

When it comes to academics, Behm is currently undecided what major to choose, but he wants to peruse the medical field with nursing a possibility.

“Eastern is a good fit academically for what I want to do as well,” Behm said.

In regards of what EIU can expect from Behm on the pitch, Brooks believes there will be instant production.

“Eastern is getting a good player and he is going to make an impact right away,” Brooks said. “He is able to hold the ball but also play with pace at the same time. He is going to be able to hang with those college guys right away as a freshman because of his passing and how he reads the game.”

Behm’s work ethic has helped transform the Washington soccer program and will serve as a reference point for many Panther athletes in the future, said Brooks.

“I’m happy for (Behm) because all of his hard work is paying off,” Brooks said. “The way he represents Washington Community High School is great, because it shows others that with hard work, you can go on and play at a solid division one program.”

Ultimately, Behm is thankful for his time as a Washington Panther, as the time he spent has helped transform him into an EIU Panther.

“I feel like Washington has helped prepare me for college academically, especially in my junior and senior years here,” Behm said. “Athletically, I learned a lot, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”