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What's it like to have your spacious bedroom replaced by a small dorm room? What's it like to have your privacy invaded by a roommate? What's it like to have Mom's home cooking replaced by cafeteria food?

What's it like to leave home at age 14?

Just ask Brad Kogut, a Cheektowaga teen who just started his second year of boarding school at Culver Military Academy in Culver, Ind.

"It wasn't easy to leave home," admits Brad, now a sophomore and assistant captain of Culver's junior varsity hockey team.

"I wasn't sure if I could leave my friends and family, but I had to do it for myself. Getting a scholarship to Culver was a great honor, and I didn't want to miss the best opportunity of my life."

The chance to play highly competitive hockey for this top-ranked college preparatory military academy was, for Brad, the chance of a lifetime.

After playing summer junior hockey for the Ontario Monarchs, he was approached by his coach, whose son attended Culver, to try out for the Culver team.

With three championship hockey teams, a sprawling coed college campus complete with nine-hole golf course, airport and stables, Culver offered an experience not available in many places. (Without a scholarship, the annual cost for boarders is about $21,000.)

After being accepted to Culver and making the team -- Brad plays left wing -- he decided he had to give it a try.

"I thought about my future," says Brad. "Culver has produced many NHL players, and if I'm good enough, that's what I'd like to do someday. If I can't make it to the pros, I'd like to go to Boston College and play hockey there. At Culver I also knew I would get a great education, which is very important to me.

"It was my sister who gave me the best advice. She said, 'You can stay here and play hockey, but you may always wonder what might have happened if you had gone away.'

"That convinced me that I didn't always want to live with a feeling of 'what if...'

"From the beginning, though, it was hard to think about leaving my friends and family. When I got to Culver, it was tough at first. I wasn't really that homesick, but I was uncomfortable with all the military stuff. A lot of people think that if you go to a military school you're going to end up with a military career, but only 3 percent of the students do.

"After a while I began to like what was expected of me -- to be a leader, to be responsible, to try hard and see results."

Brad believes that his military training has helped him to become a stronger student and hockey player.

He says: "As assistant captain of the team I always felt I had to do my best, to set an example. I had to be prepared to give that extra push to work harder, for myself and for the team.

"The challenge is what kept me going, the desire to excel. I've always been that way. Maybe it's unusual for someone 15, but I think I've always been focused. When things got tough, I tried to keep my head on straight. I tried to remember that being at Culver was going to take me somewhere."

Brad's first year at Culver was filled with ups and downs, particularly regarding roommates. It's not easy to go from having your own room to sharing a small dorm room, especially with someone who doesn't share your interests.

"My first roommate was the kind of kid who got picked on a lot, so I became like a big brother to him. I tried not to let anyone mess with him, but it was hard to deal with all the time. After six months I found a roommate who was also a good friend."

Brad remembers feeling like he was part of "a sleep-over that never ends," but overall he says he likes having a roommate. "It was nice to have someone to talk to, especially at night."

At Culver, Brad found that the strong academic program and the outstanding hockey program helped to compensate for early feelings of uncertainty. He kept a busy schedule, going to classes all day, doing homework and practicing hockey about three hours a day. In between he squeezed in off-ice conditioning.

Weekends were spent traveling to Chicago, Michigan and throughout Indiana. As one of the top-ranked high school hockey programs in the country, Culver has won 16 of its past 21 championships. Talk about pressure!

"Hockey is the big sport at Culver," says Brad. "If you play hockey you're kind of looked at as a big man on campus. Being part of a team was great; it definitely helped my adjustment to school. For me, the challenge was to stay on the first line and maintain my grades. I've always had to divide my time because of hockey practice and games, so I think that experience helped me at Culver.

"Even when I was a little kid, I had to miss a lot of parties and social things because I played on travel teams, so I'm used to having to give up certain things. But the pressure at Culver is intense. Last year, the TV show '2 0/2 0' called Culver the most stressful school in the country. You just have to stay on top of things."

Last year Brad made the 500-mile trip home only at Christmas and Easter but kept in touch with his family by phone, calling frequently at first, but only twice a week by the end of the year.

Brad credits some of his success at Culver to his unit counselor, who serves as an adult guidance figure. As the year went on, he also developed special friendships that allowed him to feel more comfortable with the idea of being away from home.

"I became good friends with a senior and a hockey player who lived down the hall from me," says Brad. "He became like my family away from home, and he also became my best friend.

"Over the summer my parents were amazed at how much I had grown up. I was used to being on my own, so I moved into our basement.

"I made the right decision to go to Culver. I'm sure of it."

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