Connagh Wilks played for Lyne F.C (Men’s) prior to his departure for adventures on a USA soccer scholarship and we thought it would be interesting to our members to know how he has got on in his first year.
1) When did you first think about going out to the USA on a soccer scholarship and what gave you the idea?
I was at Woking College in my second year, 18 years of age and not particularly sure what I was going to do after I left College. I didn’t really want to go to university in the UK as it would mean that I would have had to give up my football, but similarly I didn’t want to just want to give up my education, go straight into work and have my head in the clouds believing that I was going to become a professional footballer. I first heard about soccer scholarships in the U.S. through social media and it just seemed to provide me with the best of both worlds, I could earn myself a high level education without having to give up my football and continue to play at a high level, whilst having a life changing experience.
2) How did you achieve getting your scholarship and was you happy with the offers from universities you received?
I choose to go through the scholarship agency First Point USA, as they were the agency that were the biggest and attracted my attention to the U.S. the most. Before I actually was offered any scholarships by schools I had to complete an SAT and gather video evidence of me playing football and provide information that was very much like a CV. Overall it’s about selling yourself to the U.S. and making yourself a brand that the coaches will be attracted to. Once I had done this I received around 10-12 offers from various schools in the U.S. and I was happy with the offers that I did receive.
3) What was your main criteria and in what order, was it education first, football first or a combination of both?
For me, football does come first, I want to play at the highest level that I possibly can and I am always looking to improve myself as I do just love playing the game. But even though football to me is my priority focus, I think it is equally as important to be realistic and accept that through some potential circumstances such as injuries, lack of opportunities, age and so on. I won’t be able to play football forever and I am even less likely to make a living from playing football. I don’t want to sound pessimistic but I just believe that this is a fact that most simply have to be aware of. Because of this, it makes education an important priority to me even if it is not the most important. Education keeps my options open and can provide me with many opportunities in the future even if these opportunities are not necessarily related to football.
4) What made you choose Houston-Victoria University above other offers?
For me I chose the University of Houston-Victoria because it was the offer that did feel the most financially viable for me and my family and also I felt that at this institution I would be gaining a strong education in the major that I am taking which is General Business. I also thought that at this university I would have a good chance of improving my personal game and would have a good potential to be playing regularly in this team.
5) When you arrived at Campus and had a look around what was your first impressions and what was you impressed by?
When I first arrived on campus it was practically 1am because of airport delays so for me I was quite content with getting into bed and try to catch up on as much sleep as I could. But, the next day when I did have a look around I was happy with what I saw. I am not going to lie and say it was like being at the Eiffel Tower or at the World Cup final because that wasn’t the case as the university that I am attending isn’t a very large one. However, what I could see was a place where I was going to be able to focus and do what I needed to do for my football and for my academics and as I have said this was my key focus.
6) How is the educational side going and are you enjoying it?
The educational system in the U.S. is very different to the U.K., the first two years that you are here you do essential subjects that don’t actually relate to your major but they are subjects that you have to do. Essentially you are going back to your GCSE’s/A-Levels for two years and then your last two years you do the subject that your major actually is. Now I personally don’t enjoy education at the best of times, but if it is something that I have to do in order to continue to play the football that I am then I will happily do this. With the educational side I am performing well which does make it more enjoyable because like with any sport in the U.S. if your grades are not up to scratch then you are not allowed to play the sport which you want to. This does put more pressure on you but I certainly think that this is necessary so that you play the sport that you love but by doing this you are not compromising the high level education which you are earning whilst you are here.
7) How is the soccer coaching and match day experience?
The coaching is certainly different, personally I do feel that I have had better coaches in the UK but it is all down to personal preference. Despite this I am fitter than I certainly ever have been and I have also developed a great deal as a football player because of the players that I am playing with. You learn things from the senior players of the team and when you are training everyday everyone in the team picks up new ideas from everyone else, which allows everybody to develop and improve.
The match day experience is rather similar to how it was when I was playing back home for me. You have the support of the fans and everyone in the team is pumped and ready to go and earn the win, for me match day just brings an extra buzz to myself and to my team because you know that these are the days that you do all the training for.
8) Can you describe a normal day in your life now, education/soccer/social and how it is scheduled?
So on Monday’s, Wednesday’s and Friday’s I’ll have lessons from 9am till 11am, I will then eat and then get ready for training which is at 3pm till 5pm. Whilst on Tuesday’s and Thursday’s I will have lessons from 8am till 11:15am, go to eat and then I will have training at 1:30pm till 3pm. On Monday’s after I have had training I will then go and have a team meeting at 7pm and then we will have study hall from 8pm-10pm. On weekends we will both have a game on Saturday and have the Sunday off or we will have the weekend off completely if we do not have a game. In my free time I more or less just make sure all my work is done, be with the rest of my team and go to the gym. It’s fair to say that I am busy quite a lot of the time.
9) How has your team’s season been so far and how do you feel you have performed?
The team’s season has been brilliant. We won the Red River Athletic Conference Championship and Regular season for the first time in the Universities history and proceeded to the first round of the National Championships which is where our season was unfortunately ended. I feel that for my first season I have performed well. I have played every game at Centre Back this season and I managed to earn a few honors which were being part of the All-Conference 2nd team and the All-Tournament team.
10) How do you rate your overall experience so far of being in a university in the USA playing soccer?
I find this experience fantastic in all aspects. From a footballing and education perspective as well as it being a life experience I am very happy in making the choice that I have made in coming out here. I know that it was the right choice for me.
11) If you had to do it all again, would you do anything different?
No I wouldn’t
12) If you were advising a young up and coming footballer, would you advise going to the USA on a soccer scholarship as a good option and why?
I would advise this option of coming out the United States to any footballer. But I would make sure that the people who I was advising to do this would be people who were seriously committed to making themselves better as football players and were also committed to doing what they had to do from an educational standpoint. This experience is difficult and there is no other way of saying that. If you are serious about coming out here, you were doing it for the right reasons and you were willing to make the sacrifices that you had to then of course I would recommend anyone to do what I have done and gain this experience.
13) What are your personal targets for this year in education and football?
For my education I am hoping to earn a 3.4-3.6 GPA from the fall semester and in the spring semester I will be aiming for a 4.0 GPA as by this time I would have become more accustomed to the U.S. education system and too many of the professors who I am going to have next semester.
For football, I am actually going to stay out here over the summer period as I have been accepted by a team to play in the PDL this season. Then when I return to university next year I will be looking to continue on the success that I and my team have already had this season next fall. As always I am going to try and develop my game as best as I can in order to help me improve personally and to help my team earn even more victories on the pitch.
14) In your own words how would you sum up this whole experience so far and give a brief outline of how you are doing as a team and what honors you have achieved so far?
Overall, I am not going to lie to anyone this experience is the hardest I have ever had in my life. I am thousands of miles away from my family and friends. You have to learn to be able to stand on your own two feet in normal life and whilst doing this you have to try and earn your spot in a football team that has a squad as large as 30 players and make sure that you are keeping on top of your education. But in spite of all of this, I do not think that there is any other experience out there that can help you grow in the way that this one has done for me, both as a footballer and as a man.
I am looking forward to next season with my team, I hope that we will go and win another conference title and that I add to honors that I have earned this year.
I would also like to say a great thank you to both Nigel and Luke Edgecombe who both helped me massively throughout the process in getting me out to the United States because any questions that I had about how things work out here and where would be the best place for me to go, they advised me with all of this and it was a great help.
Lyne F.C would like to thank Connagh for sharing his experiences with us and we hope this may inspire further players to follow a similar pathway.