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The Path to College Soccer: A Footballer’s Journey from Sunderland to Clemson

Every athlete's journey is a story built on dedication, perseverance, and pivotal moments that shape their sporting career. We recently met with Will Cain, former Sunderland Academy Midfielder turned Clemson University Soccer Scholar, to learn about growing up through the UK Football Academy system, and the transformative experiences that defined his path to US College Soccer.

Will Cain holding NCAA trophy

Early beginnings and the UK academy experience 

Will’s journey began at just age three, fuelled by his mother’s encouragement, where he honed his skills with his local team until fate intervened in the form of scout Michael Gordon, who recognised his potential and paved the way for a life-changing opportunity at Sunderland’s academy where he was offered a pre-contract aged just seven. Despite setbacks such as a heel infection requiring surgery at age 11, Will’s resilience and passion for the game remained unwavering. In time, he eventually transitioned positions from centre-back to midfielder to suit his physical attributes. As he approached his teenage years, Will’s training took a step up in professionalism as the Academy increased the training demand, educated him on the importance of good nutrition and recovery, and supported him in understanding the effect growth spurts can have on an athlete and how to prevent injury. Will detailed: “When you set your sights on your scholarship, that’s when you start to focus on things like nutrition and recovery at a more professional level. You also analyse your strengths and areas for improvement. I knew I was fit, had the technical ability and game intelligence but felt I needed to develop my physicality to work towards my goal of going pro”. 

 

Will Cain playing for Sunderland United FC

 

Going beyond with Martin Nugent 

Aged 16, Will identified that he needed to develop his strength and speed so sought additional support outside the confines of the academy. Turning to Martin’s Nugent Elite Performance team following recommendations from his peers, he found a nurturing environment focused on enhancing physicality and fitness. “I knew lads who had been to Martin and said they got quicker, stronger so I knew I had to give it a go” commented Will. Here, he first encountered Blood Flow Restriction (BFR) training, a revolutionary technique that would become integral to his development as an athlete. Under the guidance of knowledgeable mentors and surrounded by fellow athletes from diverse backgrounds, he discovered the true benefits of gym work and personalised coaching, propelling him toward new heights of performance. Will attests to finding motivation in his gym work: “If you get taught about the actual benefits and you start seeing improvement, that’s when you’re like I want to do more of it.” 

 

Will Cain performing lunge stretch wearing Hytro BFR Performance Shorts

 

Exploring US options and clinching a top-tier scholarship 

With dreams of a professional career looming large, he decided to explore options across the Atlantic following an earlier presentation from Vertex Soccer, an organisation dedicated to supporting released academy players in the UK to find soccer scholarships in the US. Inspired by the prospect of top-tier facilities, academic opportunities, and a vibrant soccer culture, he embarked on a journey to secure a scholarship at Clemson University. With the support of agencies like First Point and Vertex, he navigated the intricate process of collegiate recruitment, ultimately finding his home at Clemson’s illustrious soccer program. Will shared: “I contacted Vertex as I had set my sights on Clemson, and Ollie there told me they only take category one and two players from the UK. When he saw my clips he said I was the best player on their roster. He contacted the coach, and everything aligned.” 

For aspiring footballers looking to make the jump, Will underlined the size of the opportunity with an important caveat: “Education is a big part of it. Some people think that as it’s a football scholarship they will just play football all day. You do spend a lot of time studying and in class, you have the same amount of work to do as any other college student so that’s important to remember. Of course, you are getting a $200,000 degree paid for, so that’s a huge advantage.” 

 

Will Cain playing soccer for Clemson University

 

A shift in training and recovery at Clemson 

Arriving on campus at Clemson, Will quickly realised that although the game was familiar, the landscape was vastly different. College soccer brought with it a renewed focus on athleticism, speed, and physicality, challenging him to adapt and evolve from the more technical and tactical player he had been. He commented: “I think the biggest difference is the physicality. The game is very transitional, whereas Academy football in England is very tactical, very technical.” 

Yet, amidst the intensity of competition, Clemson offered an unparalleled array of resources dedicated to high-performance training and recovery. From state-of-the-art facilities to personalised support from Athletic Trainers, Sports Scientists, and a range of Coaches, every aspect of his development was meticulously catered to, enabling Will to achieve the kind of growth and success he desired.  

Integral to his progression is the focus on recovery at Clemson, Will added “it’s massive here. I’d say it’s one of the biggest aspects”. The introduction of a purpose-built recovery centre offers an array of modalities that can support him in achieving his performance goals, with sleeping pods, infrared therapy, massage chairs, a Sensory Deprivation Chamber, and a Cryotherapy Pod Chamber plus a bookable masseuse service all teamed with yoga, meditation, and outside space to maximise rest.  

 

Will Cain playing soccer for Clemson University

 

The changing landscape of athlete development 

With more athletes looking for holistic development and ways to unlock their potential, the US is an attractive proposition. Dr. Warren Bradley, founder of Hytro, comments: “As Will’s experience highlights, the landscape of athletic development is undergoing a profound transformation, with athletes taking the lead in their training and recovery to maximise performance. Looking for ways to grasp competitive advantage means more and more athletes are using innovative training techniques like BFR. It’s clear to see that with this mindset, and the incredible resources available to collegiate sports, more athletes will undoubtedly look to the US for exciting development opportunities.” 

 

Will’s journey from Sunderland to Clemson University exemplifies resilience, ambition, and seizing opportunities. Despite setbacks, he thrived at Sunderland’s academy with the support of Martin Nugent and his team, before exploring US options with Vertex Soccer’s guidance and securing a scholarship at Clemson. There, he has found unparalleled resources for high-performance training and recovery, highlighting the changing landscape of athlete development. Will’s story will undoubtedly inspire other athletes to push boundaries and embrace opportunities to reach their ultimate goals. 

 

Learn more about how Hytro BFR wearables can unlock competitive advantage through amplified preparation, training, and recovery. 

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