A Look Back with Men's Soccer's Paul Wyatt
Back to Men's Soccer
Dukes' All-America Paul Wyatt was a four-year
starter and four-time all-league player for JMU. The British-born senior has been invited to January's
Major League Soccer Player Combine, where aspiring professional players will
participate in hopes of being drafted by an MLS team. In an interview that took place before the
Combine invitations were issued, Wyatt reflected on his soccer career with
Devon Howard of JMU Athletics Communications.
Tell us about your hometown.
PW: I'm from
a small town in England called Modbury, and it has a population of about 2,000
people. It's tiny -- a typical
picturesque English town near Plymouth, about 3 1/2 hours from London. It's in the southwest of England in the
countryside, right by the beach. It's a
very nice place.
What sports did you play growing up?
PW: I played pretty much everything. I started off playing rugby and played for
about 10 years, and then soccer took over.
But I played tennis, I swam, I did everything. I was one of those kids who was outside from
the moment I woke up until the last light every day, just playing with my
friends, playing any sports we could play.
That was basically my childhood, and eventually soccer took over in a
I ended my rugby career with a youth World Cup in Japan, which was cool. So that was, I guess, a good way to go out. And soccer has been my passion ever
since. I just preferred the social side
of soccer more than rugby, so that's how I ended up here really.
What made you want to play soccer in the
PW: The big appeal is that you can
continue to play at a high level while getting an education. In England if you want to play
professionally, you need to be signed by a club when you're 16 as a pro. Then you really have to commit to that, and
you can't really study at the same time.
What often happens is kids end up signing a pro contract and then, a few
years down the road, they get released and they have no education.
I was at a point where I felt I wasn't going anywhere. I was working and I was out of school. I was at a point where I wanted to go in a
different direction and this seemed like a really good opportunity. And it was; I made the right decision.
What American schools did you consider?
PW: I can't remember exactly; there
were quite a lot. When you don't really
know the schools, they're just a bunch of names until you look on the Internet. Then you look at a bunch of facts, and it's
really hard to tell which schools are good and which schools are not. I was lucky enough to get some advice from a
family friend and a former player for Doc (JMU coach Tom Martin), Jake
Edwards. He is actually helping me now
with where I'm going to go after this.
He was a big help for me.
(Editor's note: Edwards played for JMU from 1994-97 and
had a 13-year professional career in England before retiring in 2010.)
How did you choose JMU?
PW: I talked to as many people as I
could who had done similar things.
Really, JMU just seemed like it had everything that I wanted. It's a reputable school for academics, it's
no joke with that sort of thing, and it's a competitive program as well. I really felt like the program was a good fit
for me and, talking to Doc, he gave me a lot of advice about other schools.
I almost went to a school in Kansas, which was similar to JMU. But I didn't know about the location, and I
was a little misguided in that. Then Doc
called me and said, "Listen you're making a huge mistake and we want you
to come here." I talked to Jake and
ended up changing my mind. I'm positive
I made the right decision, and I couldn't have asked for a better
experience. I'm just glad that I got so
What has it been like to go to school in
a different country?
PW: I've loved it. I've always been one to travel a lot and see different
places. I remember being nervous before
I left. But when I arrived on campus and
looked around, I just thought "This is perfect; it's got everything I
need." I knew that I would stay
here for four years and have a good time.
It can be tough being away, but my friends at home are away at college anyway. I don't get homesick all that much, and I've
got other English guys on the team. My
teammates here are the best group of people I could have ever asked to be on a
I love meeting new people and seeing different cultures. And everyone always wants to talk to us. Everyone hears the accent and they just want
to hear our story or know where we came from, so that's definitely something
that the American kids don't get to experience.
It's been perfect.
Did playing soccer make the adjustment
PW: Being on a team is a real help
when you move halfway across the world, because you get thrown straight into a
situation where you have 30 friends.
We've had guys from so many different countries, and it's just so nice to be
able to learn about their stories and their cultures.
Also, it's nice to have someone you can talk to about situations we all go
through. There are so many things we
have to do [differently] as international players. It's nice to be able to help the other guys
when they come from other countries to get through it and get settled in -- just
things like getting a phone and setting up a bank account. Most people don't come here with their
parents from another country, so it's up to your teammates to help you through
It helps the dynamic of the team as well.
We have so many different cultures and everyone has a different sense of
humor. The American kids like to laugh and
joke about us, and we like to poke fun at them as well. It makes for a really good atmosphere in the
locker room, and it's something that has definitely benefitted us. It has certainly benefitted me because I love
being around those guys.
What is the biggest difference between
the United States and England?
PW: That's a really hard question,
and I've been asked that so many times. The
difference for me is how friendly people are here. Back at home we have this perception that
Americans are all self-centered, a little bit arrogant and that they love
themselves. But you get here and
everyone is just so welcoming. They all
want to be your friend; they all want to look out for you.
I think that is a big difference between here and England because in England it
sometimes feels like no one wants to know your story. For me, I'd much rather stay here because of
how receptive people are to college graduates.
Everyone is always interested in where you graduated from and knowing
your story, whereas back at home it's so competitive that no one wants to
It's one of the things that I love about this country that no matter where you
go, people are interested, people are friendly.
What do you attribute your success on
the soccer field to?
PW: The biggest thing would be my
teammates. My team is really what I come
to training [practice] for every day.
Those guys will get you through anything. If you're having a bad day and you go to
training, someone will make a joke and you'll immediately be in a happy mood
and be ready to play. It just takes a
huge weight off of your shoulders having guys like that around you.
You could have 25 guys having a bad day and one guy, probably Renaldo Garcia
from Trinidad, and you spend a few minutes with him and your day instantly
turns around through a stupid dance or a joke that doesn't really make sense
and all of a sudden you're laughing again.
It's not just him; everyone has their own thing to add as well.
Last year when we went on the NCAA run to the Sweet 16, I learned to live and
die for my teammates, and they did the same.
We had such a good vibe around the team that really nothing could get in
our way, and we didn't care who we played against. Everyone thought we were going to lose to
Wake Forest and the same thing happened against UNC this year, and we've beat
big teams like that because we're not afraid of taking on anyone.
Obviously, hard work and training comes into it, but without teammates, you don't
get any success. Even the guys that don't
get minutes [in a game] or contribute with assists and goals, those guys are
still there every game and are still as passionate as everyone else. I credit 95 percent of our success to just
Last year, I was named second team All-American and I thought to myself "Why
did I get that and not the rest of why team?" It's kind of a team award really, because you
don't get looked at until you get to that position on the national scene where
people can see you. I wish my team could
get the same award and the same credit.
What is it like to play in a big-time
game and feel the atmosphere created the fans?
PW: Those are the games that you
live for. As bad as it sounds, you don't
live for the everyday conference games.
When you come up against a team like UNC this year or Wake Forest last
year, UConn as well, you just feel no pressure.
You feel like you're invincible almost, especially with our team just
being so close.
We go out and we just give everything for each other. It's obviously a phenomenal feeling to know
that people actually care about what you're doing and are watching you and
supporting you while you do it. It's not
something that you get in any other walk of life. If your passion is math or science, you never
get a big crowd of people watching you and cheering you on. To be doing exactly what you love doing in
front of other people and have them take an interest in it and support you so
much is the best feeling in the world.
There's nothing else that matches it, and it really doesn't matter whether you
score or get an assist or get a minute on the field or off the bench, you still
feel that buzz and excitement about those games. Those are the ones you really look forward to
as a player.
Particularly going up to UConn last year and seeing around 6,000 or 7,000
people who all want you to lose was quite an intimidating thing. But at the same time it's exciting. Those are the games you really live for
because you're playing to prove all those people wrong. That game particularly sticks out as one that
was really exciting for us. It's a shame
we didn't get the result that time, but it's an experience that we won't ever
get in any other situation, so we have to be thankful for that.
Do you have a favorite memory from JMU
PW: So many! I guess the favorite would be at home beating
Wake Forest [last year in the NCAAs]. Just
the fact that we hadn't gotten to the NCAA tournament in so long [six years],
and we did so well in the regular season that we got a bye in the first round
of the tournament and were seeded No. 14.
And [when] Wake Forest came here, I remember their coaches had no
respect for us and they didn't really prepare for the game very well.
On the other hand, we knew that we were just as good as them if not better, and
we had a big crowd come out and see us. It's
my best memory because of the passion we had to fight for each other and to
prove people wrong and make the whole country stand up and watch us. We ended up at No. 3 in the RPI [ratings
percentage index ranking all teams] in the country at one point, which is
something that I don't think JMU had ever done before. We all loved each other so much and had such
fun off the field as well. It might
sound strange, but when you have those really close bonds off the field, it
just brings success naturally.
That whole period and the week after when we were training for UConn, none of
us got to go home for Thanksgiving. [No
one] really cared because no one really wanted to be anywhere else than with
our team. We went to Spotswood Country
Club for Thanksgiving dinner and, that was nice, but it was the fact that we
were all together for that whole week when everyone else was at home. Obviously losing to UConn at the end was a
disappointment, but we were happy that we had gotten there and created a
special bond as a team, so it was definitely a special memory for me.
Do you think you've achieved what you
wanted to when you came to JMU?
PW: Yes and no. My first year here, I don't think the program
was heading in the right direction, but I think my class and the class below
us, other guys and the coaches have really turned it around since then. It's great that we know that we're leaving
the program in a better position than when we got here -- they've got a new
facility and a great bunch of players.
They've got a lot going for them now.
Before last year, we hadn't even made a conference tournament in
years. For us to make [the CAA
Tournament] two years running, [and] to make the semifinals two years running
is obviously a huge step forward.
Definitely [it was] disappointing not to make the NCAA tournament this year,
and I think that would be one of the things that would make me hesitate on that
question. And the other thing would be
the fact that we never actually won the CAA tournament. We won the regular season last year by such a
stretch and our run just proves what potential the program has. In terms of leaving the program in such a good
position, we can all leave with our heads held high.
I'm confident that the program will go
on to do big things in the future; a few years ago, you couldn't really see
that happening. We're definitely proud
of what we've done as a class; it just would have been nice to get another
How do you feel you've grown as both a
player and a person while you've been at JMU?
PW: As a player, I've really come
out of my shell a bit. Back in England I
was playing with some former professional players and some really strong
characters, and I learned a lot from them.
But being 16 or 17 years old on a team full of men, it was really hard
to express myself and be a leader.
When I came here I wanted to make sure I had an impact on other people. It just happened that I kind of naturally
came up as a leader on the field. That's
something that I never really saw myself doing, but it just happened naturally. It turned out that a lot of people ended up
looking up to me and looking to me for advice, for motivation. It's something that has definitely helped me
grow as a player.
Along with that, we have some amazing facilities here, which I couldn't have
envisioned myself using back in England because you don't really get those
opportunities anywhere else. So to be
able to enhance my physical performance with strength and conditioning coaches
and being able to monitor everything that I do and having the nutrition available
to me, it really is a complete package.
As a player, I've definitely come along and I've been able to track my
progress, and I'm happy with the way I'm leaving.
As a person, I don't think there is any other place in the world to grow,
really. I always say that in order to
grow, you need to step outside your comfort zone and you need to travel, see
different things, before you know what your identity is, and you can become
stronger that way. Coming here really
just gave me so much more independence.
Again, being a leader on the team has given me a lot of responsibilities and the
confidence to know that I'm able to deal with so many situations in many different
environments. Learning to be a
student-athlete is one of the hardest things you can do. Balancing the work, the training, games and
traveling, everything, it's obviously a big demand. But I really took to it like a duck to
water. I was just so happy to be here in
this place, and I feel that I'm leaving here a much stronger person, and I'm
much more confident in moving forward in life and in soccer as well.
The million-dollar question for every
soon-to-be college graduate: what's
PW: It's up in the air at the
moment. There are a lot of restrictions
on international students and what you can do because you're normally here on a
student visa that runs out shortly after you graduate. The big thing for me is I want to keep
playing at the highest level that I can play at, so that's the number one
priority for me. I am hoping to be
invited to the MLS Combine in January, and I should know about that next week
after the NCAA final four is played. After
that, you have the MLS SuperDraft, and different tryouts and different other
combines that you can go to. So whether
or not I get something professional sorted out over here really will have a
huge impact on what I decide to do.
If I don't get anything over here, I'll probably head back to Europe and see if
I can play at a high level there. In
terms of joining the real world, who knows when that could be, but I'm trying
to put it off as long as possible. I'm
graduating as a health studies major and I'm really interested in health,
nutrition and fitness. I'm a certified
personal trainer, so I may go into something to do with that or something to do
with public health. My mom works in
public health, so it's something that kind of runs in the family, and my dad is
a doctor. I definitely see myself
working in the health field eventually, if not as a coach or a player. But I'm definitely focused on soccer at the
moment and trying to make it to the professional game, so that's the goal.