Updated: Aug 3
College soccer was never the plan. But it was a dream come true.
Let’s be honest, every kid who falls in love with the Beautiful Game at a young age grows up wanting to be the next Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo and play for the world’s biggest clubs… Barcelona FC, Manchester United or even Leeds United. When I was young kid, I remember sitting on the couch every Monday night with my family and watching Les Murray’s The World Game on the SBS Network. Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka led the front three at Leeds United at the time. I wanted to be the next Harry Kewell… in reality, that didn’t happen but I was lucky enough to find the next best thing…
I spent my childhood playing for the Urunga Raiders at the grassroots level and eventually progressed to the North Coast Football representative team and the Northern NSW State Squad. I was fortunate to be selected to compete in the U14 World Youth Football Tournament in Tokyo, Japan representing NNSW Football and later selected to represent the U16 Australian Schoolboys Futsal Team on a tour of Brazil. My luck continued and I was given the opportunity to train with the Emerging Jets in Newcastle however as I approached the end of high school and despite my global football pursuits by Year 12, I found myself playing back in the local premier league for the Urunga Raiders. My football career did have a nice symmetry to it at that point but at only 17 years of age I wasn’t ready to give up the dream.
With limited opportunity locally and prospects of pursuing professional football in Australia fading, the US college soccer journey took shape. I had never planned on travelling to the USA to continue my football career and to be honest had little interest in going to America. America was the land of the free and the brave but not football. I was wrong. I knew very little about what the USA college system could offer and the more I learned the more exciting it became. This wasn’t Barcelona or Manchester United calling (that was never going to happen for me) but it was the opportunity to continue my football career abroad and it would lead to the adventure of a lifetime.
Further to my football pursuits, my parents have always been strong advocates of tertiary education and attending university was a non-negotiable. Instead of trying to balance my football with attending a university the USA college system provided a one-stop shop for both my academics and athletics. I was sold (and more importantly so were my parents). I began learning everything there was to know about college soccer and by the time I finished my HSC I had more than 15 offers from US colleges to choose from and a massive decision to make. I ended up choosing to attend Whitworth University in Spokane, WA and it has been one of the best decisions I have ever made.
"Instead of trying to balance my football with attending a university the USA college system provided a one-stop shop for both my academics and athletics."
Whitworth was a smaller school based in Spokane, WA, roughly a 4-hour drive inland of Seattle in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. It wasn’t an easy decision to make but it came down to the quality of the football program, the Head Coach, it’s West Coast location and affordability. I had been a big fish in a little pond in Urunga and half way around the world I quickly learned I had been swimming in a very small pond. I was now a little fish in a very big pond… and my freshmen year was all but smooth sailing. I was lucky to see the pitch from the bench and by the end of the year I would have been lucky to have played 90 minutes across the entire season. It took me time to adjust to the pace of the game and the physicality of college soccer. Whitworth had always played a very technical, possession-based game and I was impressed with how good the American kids really were. Despite a difficult freshmen year I returned for a second-year eager to prove myself. My journey only improved from here and by my third year I was a regular starter and then named Captain during my senior season. We had won our conference three out of the four years and progressed to the National Championship on each occasion. We had a quality team, and several of my teammates continued their football careers via the MLS SuperDraft or in Europe. We travelled across the country in coaches, planes and chartered flights, stayed in nice hotels, played football under lights in front of crowds of thousands. As far as I was concerned, I was living the dream and made some of the best memories and friends along the way.
"We travelled across the country in coaches, planes and chartered flights, stayed in nice hotels, played football under lights in front of crowds of thousands. As far as I was concerned, I was living the dream and made some of the best memories and friends along the way."
Of course, I was still a full-time university student and despite flying across the country to play football games I still had to balance my studies so “study-hall” on the coach or in hotel lobby’s was common and served for some of the best laughs we had on our the trip. I had a keen interest in business and economics and had joined the Whitworth Student Investment Group. This was a student-managed fund that was responsible for managing $100,000 invested on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). I had the opportunity to travel to New York for the Global Asset Management Education forum and learn from some of the brightest minds on Wall Street. After four fantastic years at Whitworth, I graduated and moved to Seattle to pursue a career in investment management and spent three years living and working in Seattle.
Reflecting on the 7 years I spent in the USA brings me tremendous joy and I surprised myself with what it has enabled me to achieve to date. The college pathway is a real opportunity to change your life in more ways than you can imagine, and it is certainly within reach. If a kid from Urunga can travel halfway around the world and back again you better believe you can too!