This post is by Johnny Mago, a regular contributor to the blog, who highlights NCSA Athletic Recruiting employees’ athletic careers and triumphs. You can read Johnny Mago’s own recruiting story, and how he became an All-American, here.
Michael Strong is a typical forward: on the shorter side, but fast, and aggressive when he knows that he can go in for the shot. So when he had committed to the DI program at the University of Kentucky, he moved out to campus—from his hometown of San Antonio, Texas—a month early, wanting to acclimate himself to the intensity of his new level of play.
“I had to prove myself in the summer, when all the older guys were there,” Michael says.
And then, in one of his first practices, Michael sprained an ankle.
He hadn’t even dressed for a game, and already he was benched.
The Road to Kentucky
It had come down to five schools for Michael, but after his official visit to Kentucky, he knew it was everything he was looking for in a school.
“The atmosphere and the college feel of Lexington was like something out of the movies. It was like nothing I had experienced in San Antonio,” Michael says. “It was an up-and-coming program and I believed in the vision of the coach. That really helped sway me as well.”
So going into the room for soccer National Signing Day, Michael was sure on his school — but not at all sure what Signing Day would be like for him.
“I just remember how special that moment was–not just for me and my family, but my entire school,” he says. “I didn’t know what to expect going into the room but when I walked in, having media there from the San Antonio Express News, my teammates, coaches, and everyone else, I realized how excited everyone was for me.”
“I couldn’t have done it without the people in that room. Getting to sign that letter to a Division I school made all the years of playing club soccer and high school soccer come full circle and really put closure on what I had accomplished and what I had to look forward to.”
After the injury, Michael thought he had lost a chance to compete at the school that recruited him. “When I was still hurt, that was my time of doubt. I was on the bench of the bench team,” Michael says.
He wanted to show his teammates and coaches he was recruited to Kentucky for a reason and deserved to be there. “When you’re watching from the sideline as the other guys are out there doing two-a-days, it doesn’t make you a popular guy.”
He remembers conversations with his parents about potentially transferring back home and having to keep his grades up. Visiting the training room three times a day drained Michael and added stress to the life of an adjusting college athlete. His belief that he was good enough to play if he were healthy just added more anguish.
“You know, it goes back to signing that Letter of Intent,” Michael says. “It made me realize I’d fulfilled my first goal, the opportunity to play DI soccer, but also made me realize that this is actually the starting point for my next set of goals. I didn’t want to be a guy that went to a DI program and burn out, never reaching his potential.”
Hungry To Prove Himself
When he was finally healthy to practice again, Michael started right from the bottom of the pack. He formed relationships with others who were trying to crawl up the depth chart, and they bonded over that common goal.
But Michael was different in that he was having to play out of position and out of his comfort zone. It gave him a chip on his shoulder. “I took it as an opportunity to show my coaches and, more importantly, my teammates that I was a player who they wanted to play with under the lights,” he says.
Still, he was shocked when his coach told him to warm up. “I was like, ‘What? Did he say me?'” Michael says.
And he surprised the opposing defenders the first opportunity he had. Playing close to the goal, he read a weak backward pass off the foot of a defender back to the keeper. Sprinting into the box, he jumped in front of the ball as the goalkeeper tried to clear it.
“My first collegiate goal was a butt goal,” he says with a laugh.
“If I learned anything from the journey to Signing Day, it was that the process is never over. I was always working to earn the respect of the older players and my coaches,” Michael says. “To get playing time and ultimately become a starter and a go-to guy for the team.”
He went on to earn Second-Team Conference in the Mid-American Conference (Kentucky has since moved to Conference USA). But more importantly, Michael knows how to get himself out of periods of uncertainty. “I learned a lot about a team, and what a team means. And that’s why I am so passionate about what I do today. If you have the ability to play for a college team, I fully support and believe in doing it.”
What about you? Are you a soccer player looking to sign? Michael and his peers are here to help you get there.