The first time I ever heard of RIASA was at the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) Convention in 2012 in Kansas City, Missouri. I went with my dad and my brother, Rory, and when we were walking around the exhibition hall at the convention center we came across the RIASA booth.
We met Mark Ellis and were intrigued by the idea of a four year university, based in the UK, that offered both a US accredited degree and the opportunity to play soccer for 9 months of the year. At the time I was a sophomore in high school, but as soon as I heard about the program I knew that I wanted to go there.
Everything sort of came full circle for me because fast forward 5 years and I was able to attend the NSCAA Convention in 2017 in Los Angeles, but this time I stood at the booth with Mark Ellis as a RIASA player talking to prospective students just like I was back in 2012.
The main reason that I decided to join the program was the fact that I would be able to play soccer in England, which has always been a dream of mine, while also studying for a four-year US accredited degree.
It was important to me that the degree would be US accredited because I didn’t know at first whether I would go and be there for just a year or maybe two years and then want to transfer my degree back to a college in the US, or if I would actually stay the full 4 years.
It was nice to know I had the option to transfer my degree back to America if I found that the program wasn’t right for me (of course I did end up staying the full 4 years).
I think what most attracted me, though, was that I would be able to play soccer for 9 months of the year, as opposed to only playing for 3 months of the year if I’d gone to a college in the US.
I knew this would give me a huge advantage over any other college soccer players in the United States who would only be training and playing full-time for a third of the time that I would be at RIASA.
I really enjoyed the program a lot. I got to know so many great people through the program, I really improved a lot as a footballer over the course of the four years, and I had so many incredible opportunities that I never could have gotten if I had simply gone to a college in the US.
I feel so blessed that I was able to play with so many talented players and train under so many fantastic coaches with years and years of playing and coaching experience who all pushed me to get better every day.
The academic side of the program was very professional and rigorous, and really learned a lot over my four years on the program. It was certainly a big step up from high school coursework and I quickly realized that the quality of work that would get me an ‘A’ in high school was only about ‘C+’ quality work at the university level.
However, my professors always gave me quick and helpful feedback on my assignments and essays so that I knew exactly what was expected of me in order for me to produce high quality academic work, so I was quickly able to raise my standards and get my work up to ‘A’ quality.
All the professors at RIASA were so supportive of us and always understanding of our busy football schedules. They made sure to work with us so that we could always achieve our highest potential.
A great aspect of RIASA while I was there was that there were 4 or 5 teams at varying levels from u19’s, Reserves, to the Academy Showcase team, that each player at the academy was selected for based on his ability.
As a result, you played every week even if you were a freshman or sophomore player or even if you weren’t one of the top players at the academy. This gave us a huge advantage over freshman or sophomore players at US colleges who might not have had the opportunity to play in a match at all during their first two years.
The soccer at RIASA was extremely high quality and professional. I happened to be at RIASA during somewhat of a transitional time when the academy had three different academy managers in four years: Gerard Jones, Bobby Patterson and finally Rob Jones, the current academy manager.
While in some ways it was difficult for us players to adjust to a new manager almost every year that I was at RIASA, I also feel lucky to have had the opportunity to learn from three different managers who all had different styles of play, levels of experience, coaching styles, expertise and knowledge to pass on to us.
The level of play was very high at all times, and a lot was expected of us as players. The coaching staff held us to very high standards, which I think is a big reason why we were so successful as a program while I was there. I grew a lot as a player while I was at RIASA over the course of the four years.
Besides the academy managers I had while at RIASA, we also had many other coaches who led training sessions, coached our league teams, gave us strength and conditioning training, etc. All of the coaches who taught and educated me during my time at the academy were so professional and had so much experience and knowledge that they imparted on me.
We were especially lucky to have Dawn Craven there as the physio and also as the one who took care of us on a day to day basis. She always made sure we were comfortable and had what we needed and we knew we could always go to her if we had a problem or needed anything.
Some of my favorite memories at RIASA include traveling to Norway and Finland to go on tour and scoring against a Norwegian 3rd Division professional team, scoring 4 goals in one match during my sophomore year, playing at the Valley Parade stadium, and playing against Burnley’s Premier League u21 squad my freshman year.
I was also lucky enough to be chosen to give the student speech at the Richmond graduation ceremony in London when I graduated in 2018, and that was an amazing experience for me.
These are just a few of the highlights of my time playing at RIASA and I have countless other amazing memories from getting to experience life in the UK and share it with the great friends and teammates I had at the academy.
After graduating I decided to further my education at Benedictine College in Atchison, KS. I just graduated this May, after studying for two years, with a Masters of Business Administration.
I also worked as a Graduate Assistant in the Marketing Department at Benedictine College while I was there as a videographer and editor. I have always had a passion for video-making, and this opportunity gave me the chance to pursue this passion.
This opportunity gave me two years of experience filming and editing marketing videos for the college which included traditional short-from marketing content, event recap videos, sports hype videos, short-films, documentary-style videos and more.
I even won a few awards for some of the video work that I did over the last few years. I’m hoping to get a job soon doing videography and video marketing hopefully for a production studio in the Kansas City area.
I will always remember my time at RIASA. Those four years were very formative years of my life and I feel so lucky and blessed that I was able to pursue my love of soccer and have so many incredible opportunities along the way.
RIASA not only allowed me a platform to pursue my soccer career but the classes and teachers really prepared me well to go on and get a masters degree in business, and to do very well at my studies too.
I want to thank all the coaches, teachers and teammates that I had who helped me along the way, educated me, coached me, and stood by me during those four years and for all the good times that we had.
To anyone thinking about going to RIASA, just remember it is a big commitment, but if you’re willing to make that commitment I really think it will be worth it.