Every year, the Hofstra men’s soccer network brings in new players. Some succeed, others fail to live up to expectations.
Men’s soccer head coach Richard Nuttall has been in charge since 1988. Since then, the Hofstra program has become one of the most competitive in the CAA, largely due to Nuttall building connections across the globe, and cultivating players from the U.S and internationally.
“Hopefully you do a good job recruiting. Sometimes you think players that will excel come out struggling,” Nuttall said. “Sometimes players you think will struggle might excel.”
“A lot of it is how you adapt to the college lifestyle and what you can bring to the program. Sometimes you will get a chance because of injuries and you need to be prepared for that moment.”
The different cultures and languages play a key factor. While there are freshmen like Massapequa’s Sean Nealis, who adapted quickly and saw over 1,300 minutes in just his first season, that isn’t the case for every freshman who comes to Hofstra.
Another freshman, recently arrived, is Alex Ashton from England. He hopes to break into the team next season, and is currently recovering from his third shoulder dislocation in less than a year.
Then there is Lucas Campos, who arrived from Brazil after preseason and was couldn’t adapt to college soccer in time to compete in 2015 in a Pride uniform.
There are different stories and narratives within a diverse program like Hofstra’s that tell the accounts of how student-athletes face hardships in their quest to play American soccer.
The freshman from Massapequa was one of the new additions to last season’s roster. The 6-foot 4-inch defender competed in 18 games – 15 of which he started – he also scored a goal in a 5-1 victory against Drexel in September.
Sean Nealis is one of four in his family to compete in Division I soccer. His older brother, Connor is a junior midfield/back on the Binghamton men’s soccer team. While his little brother Dylan has committed to Georgetown after he graduates from Massapequa High School in 2016. Dylan will follow in the footsteps of his older brother Jimmy Nealis who competed on the Georgetown men’s soccer team as a defender from 2009-2012.
“Sean is a credit to his past. He played at a decent club level; he is very athletic and comes from a great soccer family, I think it is in his blood,” said Nuttall.
Nuttall believes that the fundamental reason Sean Nealis has adapted better was his high level of athleticism. Nealis played two seasons of varsity soccer as well as three seasons of varsity basketball in high school.
“It helps with agility and his athleticism, but not technical skills. He is very athletic, but we want him to step his game up,” Nuttall said. “If he can learn from the people around him like Harri Hawkins, I am sure he will do just fine.”
“Between now and next season, he needs to improve technically. He is so athletic, and he can get away with it being just simple.”
Sean Nealis admitted he still needs some improvement on his transition from high school athletics to colligate.
“It was hard [in the beginning] especially in the first couple of games. I used to be more calm on the ball [in high school],” Nealis said. “Now, since it’s very serious and competitive, my control on the ball needs a lot of work.”
One of the ways players adapt is by learning from more experienced teammates who play in their preferred position. A key role model for Nealis was senior defender Daniel Grundei.
“He is a fantastic player and great teammate. He is very mature and reminds everyone of the right attitude you need to have during the game,” Nealis said of Grundei.
“Because of my teammates, I have been able to manage both [studies and soccer]. I saw how my other teammates were able to get through it and it was a huge help,” Nealis said. “With their help, and the coaching staff, am sure I’ll improve my footwork, and see similar playing time for the next year and season."
Ashton wasn’t as fortunate when joining since he was recovering from an injury and was forced to sit on the sidelines.
Ashton, a goalkeeper from Telford, England, was part of an agency that gives young soccer players in the U.K. a chance to tryout with scouts from different universities.
Yet, Ashton didn’t make the trials and missed his chance to impress, but that didn’t stop him.
Before dislocating his left shoulder, he made a video highlights package, and through the agency, Hofstra got their hands on it.
A couple of months later, Alex traveled to the States to join the Pride right before preseason.
“I wanted to come here to play soccer first and foremost. For me the best way to do that was to come here to the states and earn [a] degree as well,” said Ashton. “So I saw that as a bonus. I wanted to take it seriously and do something that benefits me and that I can actually use it for the future.”
For European players, coming to the States to earn an education, while playing soccer, is an opportunity that is almost unheard of.
“Players often have to sacrifice one, [education or soccer], to focus on the other,” Ashton said. “Here you can do soccer and education both at the same time. You don't need to sacrifice one. In Europe, if one works out and you go into the sports and it doesn't work you would have to start from scratch. Here if you don't make it into the sport, the worse case, which I think is really good, is earning a degree.”
Ashton is currently recovering from his third shoulder dislocation.
“In the U.K, I dislocated my left shoulder playing soccer, then I got here, dislocated it again,” Aston said. “I tried to get back to play too fast and I dislocated my other shoulder. I just got my second surgery [recently].”
“The good news is that we have an outstanding medical staff between the athletic trainers and doctors,” Nuttall said about Ashton. “I think the first battle of Alex is getting physically fit. He has a great attitude and belief of training hard. He is a very talented goalkeeper.”
While no South American played this season for Hofstra, the Pride’s network still had a presence there. Campos from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil learned English at the age of seven all the way up to his departure to the U.S. last September.
Even though coming from a country where soccer is almost a religion, It was hard for Campos to adapt to American soccer.
“I told Richie [Nuttall during a meeting last week] that I didn’t come here to play soccer,” said Campos.
“But they picked me because of it, so I know I need to play in order to reach my dream of becoming a doctor. If I play well, I can get a scholarship, I can ask for one, but first I need to get fit.”
Coming in after the 2015 preseason, the Brazilian midfielder found it hard to adapt to the team physically and socially.
“I’m a really shy person, and I almost didn’t talk to anyone the first couple of days and I still find it hard to make relations [with teammates],” Campos said about adjusting at Hofstra. “The American reception has been great overall. The coaching staff helped me get organized and adapt to the new life. The style [here in the U.S] is very different. It’s more technical in Brazil, while here it’s very physical.”
“But I need to become the best version of myself. If I can play soccer in Brazil, I know I can play it here. But I need to keep learning and do more effort,” Campos said. “I can’t close my mind just because I’m Brazilian, I still have a long way.”
Campos went in depth about how hard it is to play soccer and study medicine at the same time.
“I like the [subject]. When I first came everyone ask me what my major was. When I told them pre-med everyone was like ‘what?’ People looked at me if I was crazy,” Campos said. “It’s not hard work, when you work hard. I want to become a doctor, and I will. It’s the reason why I studied English so hard; it was to come here and study.”
Coach Nuttall admitted that Campos came to Hofstra as a means for his academics pursuit.
“Each player has their goals in and outside the field,” Nuttall said about Campos. “I think the academics are his priority, whether he succeeds in soccer won't determine whether he stays at Hofstra.”