Jan. 25—Former Dalton High School soccer standout Yahir Paez is officially a pro.
The midfielder signed his first professional contract Monday with the Chattanooga Red Wolves, the United Soccer League team announced. The contract is pending league approval.
Paez, a 2022 Dalton graduate who led the Catamounts to the state title in 2021, had signed an academy contract with the squad shortly after his graduation last summer. Paez saw some time with the main squad, making his professional debut in an October 2022 game against North Carolina FC, and has now landed with the squad full time.
Academy contracts allow players to appear in games with the team while still maintaining amateur status and college eligibility.
"It means a lot coming back to my first professional club," Paez said in a news release. "I enjoyed my first year and was able to gather knowledge about myself and the inner-workings of professional soccer."
Paez followed in the footsteps of fellow former Dalton Catamount Cristian Zaragoza in signing his academy contract last summer. Former Southeast Whitfield star Nathan Villanueva also signed a similar agreement in August. Paez becomes the first player in Red Wolves history to sign a professional contract after appearing as an academy player.
Several former local high school soccer standouts have also gone through a similar route with Chattanooga's other professional squad, Chattanooga FC, which competes in the National Independent Soccer Association.
Brothers Damian and Fabian Rodriguez, both teammates of Paez and Zaragoza at Dalton, both signed academy contracts with Chattanooga FC and are listed on the teams' 2023 roster.
Paez went through the "path to pro" pipeline with the Red Wolves by training with the club's youth academy.
"One of the early goals of the Red Wolves was to develop young talent from within our Academy. Yahir followed the path we laid that truly is the path to professional soccer," said Sean McDaniel, Red Wolves general manager and president. "He made his debut with the first team last season as an Academy product and now he's signed his first professional contract."
Paez and the Red Wolves begin play in the 2023 season in March.