Johnny Clifford has been in touch to give us an update on his experiences in the USA. He is a former soccer scholarship client of FirstPoint USA and is now enjoying a successful academic and athletic education at South Georgia College.
Check out this interview with Johnny to find out about his training schedule, social life, academic and athletic achievements and what advice he has for anyone considering a soccer scholarship to the USA!
What made you apply to First Point USA and how would you describe the experience/process?
It was always something I was interested in from an early age, but through a strange course of events and my dad meeting Andrew Kean (Chief Executive, FirstPoint USA), I decided to go for it and go for the trials.
Were you happy with the offers you received and what made you decide on South Georgia?
I was very happy with the offers I got. I knew that I was a good standard of player and believed that I was more than worth what my coach paid for me. Of course there were a few other colleges that I spoke to but coach Ken Kirsch who is our Head Coach really made an impression on me from the offset. I was ineligible to go straight to D1 NCAA I knew I was having to play juco and South Georgia College were the best option.
How has your life changed since you went to the USA on a Sports Scholarship?
My life has completely changed in every way. I came home my first summer and Christmas but have decided to stay this summer as I feel the standard of life in usa is so much higher and there are so many opportunity’s not only playing but from the coaching side of things over here. I feel I have not only improved as a player but I have learned things and met people that I will never forget.
What have you achieved since starting University?
I never thought I was the best student but over here you can tailor your courses to things you are interested in, and if you give your all on the field there will always be people willing to help you out with your studies. I have achieved some very high grades which surprised me, finishing this semester with a 3.5 GPA giving me an overall 3.2 which moving on will allow me to go to almost any higher college I want. It isn’t just about your ability on the field; some college won’t even look at players under a 2.8-3.0.
On the field I was named captain after being at the college only 5 weeks and have kept that position ever since, I played every minute of every game this past fall season and won the golden standard award for my effort through the season, which is voted by our coaches.
What has been the highlight of your time there so far?
As a college beating Georgia perimeter college (gpc) for the first time in 13 years was a huge achievement for us as we are seen to be a smaller college than most and certainly have a smaller budget. After the game my coach telling me “You have changed the face of this program,” and “this is why victories like this are possible.” was one of the proudest moments of my career. We went on to finish the season in second place behind the number 1 seed in the country darton college who we lost 1-0 and felt we were very unlucky too. We intend to change that this coming fall season.
What do you think are the benefits of going to College in the USA as opposed to the UK?
I feel that the Americans dedication to sport is what separates it. During pre-season we train sometimes 3-4 times a day, which I’m sure everyone will know is more than most pro teams back home. If you want to be a professional athlete and get a degree at the same time then America is the place to be, but just know it is hard work both on and off the field.
What is your social life like over there?
During fall season you don’t have much social life, you eat sleep and breath football (soccer, should get used to that too btw) but during spring it’s not so intense. I regularly go home with some of the boys, to places like Florida and spent my first thanks giving with my girlfriend Chelsea in Jacksonville. There are clubs, malls and everything you can imagine. It’s just like back home but everything is bigger.
Can you describe your training schedule? How do you balance it with your studies?
As I mentioned during fall it is very intense and you regularly find yourself studying on the bus on the way and home from games. It’s not easy in any way but if you are willing to ask for it there are always tutors and help available.
What are your ambitions/plans for the future?
I want to play professional, that’s the bottom line and I won’t let anyone tell me that I am not capable of doing this, or that I won’t achieve my goals. But if for some reason that doesn’t happen I am doing my degree in education and I would like to become a college coach, or work in some aspect in soccer. That’s my passion and I feel I could put my knowledge back into the game over here, as it sure does have a lot of growing potential.
What advice would you have for anyone considering a Sports Scholarship to the USA?
- Know your ability and be honest with coaches.
- Be fit; when you think your fit enough train ten times harder, because believe me pre-season heat will kill you and if you don’t prepare it will hold you back from playing. No matter what your ability coaches are big on minimum fitness levels over here.
- Expect to be homesick but let me assure you nothing changes, you might miss your friends but when you go home for summer and Christmas they will still be doing the same things. With Skype, emails, Facebook it’s so easy to keep in contact. I speak to someone back home almost every single day.
- Don’t let a girlfriend keep you back from doing what you love! If it’s meant to be then it will be. I hear so many people telling me then went and came back because they love their girlfriend and it was the biggest mistake they ever made. I don’t regret anything in my decision to come here and it was the best move I ever made. I could not imagine living in Scotland now, and have already taken steps towards applying for permanent residency.
- Good luck and train hard – succeed by succeeding!