Many kids grow up dreaming of playing professional soccer. For Nick Holliday, he didn’t have to wait to grow up: the dream became a reality before he turned 16. I had a conversation with Nick on what it’s like to balance being a high school student while playing professional soccer, being a role model for NCFC youth players, and his dreams of playing internationally.
On why he plays goalkeeper
I was pretty much a stereotypical American kid. So I played basically every sport. I played soccer, basketball, lacrosse, baseball. I never really touched football, ironically. I really hated the physical contact of it. Just all the hitting wasn’t for me. I pretty much started playing soccer when I was four and I just bounced around between soccer and basketball which were my two main sports. All my closest friends were playing soccer. So I started to dive towards soccer over basketball. Also my brother played soccer. He was definitely a big role model for me. So I wanted to follow him. That’s what probably made me commit to soccer.
Did you always play goalkeeper?
Yeah! I always hated running so that is why. I knew I was never going to run if I played goalie. I was always the biggest kid–always the tallest kid. A little bit chunky not gonna lie. I was always on the bigger side. So I thought playing keeper has the least amount of running. I was good at blocking shots so I said “I’ll stick with this.”
On what it’s like to sign a pro contract at 15
It definitely feels great. I’m really grateful and blessed to be in a position where I’m able to play soccer every day and at this point, do it as a full time job. I’m definitely really honored for that. It was really exciting when I first signed my contract, because I think as a kid, you just want do everything your parents tell you to do. “Nick, take out the trash” and “Nick, do this.” At some point, you just wanna be able to repay your parents’ debt for all their hard work that they did. For me, I got to sign a contract and to see my parents start to tear up a little bit, it just made me really happy and blessed because they know all the hard work that I did, thanks to all the sacrifice that they made for me.
On his professional debut
On June 20th, 2021, Nick made his professional debut versus the Chattanooga Red Wolves. During his debut, he became the youngest player in USL League 1 history to play in a match. He was 15 years old.
It was definitely a surreal moment. I wasn’t planning on playing that early. When I started training with the first team, I wanted to play, but I wasn’t really expecting to play that early because I was third in the depth chart but when the opportunity came, I wasn’t really that nervous. I felt I’d done a good job preparing for this. There’s no reason for me to be that nervous about it.
I went into the game full of excitement and confidence. I knew as long as I went out there and did my thing, I give the best opportunity to help the team win. The result was definitely unfortunate. We were winning the entire game for like 73 minutes and then managed to lose 3-2. I think I had 11 saves off 14 shots on target. I think I did my best, but it was definitely a surreal moment. It meant a lot that my parents were in the crowd too.
11 saves is a lot and Chattanooga is a great team. Do you think they were taking more shots than usual to test you?
I have no doubt. I guarantee you in the locker their coach was like, “okay, this kid is 15 and it’s his first game. Just shoot it.” I mean, fair enough. I would’ve done the same thing if I was their coach.
On being a high school student AND a pro soccer player
You are a Junior at C.E. Jordan High School in Durham, North Carolina. Do you ever get pressured by your classmates and or the coach to say like, “Hey Nick, why don’t you play a couple games with us?”
I’ve got a couple questions from my classmates. I always just tell them “I wish I could play.” I enjoy my position, of course, playing professional soccer, but I never really got to have that experience just playing a high school sport. So I always just joke around with the coach saying, “Hey, if you let me play one game, I’ll change my name. I’ll get a haircut. I’ll blend into the crowd.” I always wish I could play one game just to feel that high school experience.
How does it work attending high school and managing games on the road?
Luckily our last midweek game is on August 23rd and I start school on the 29th. So it works out perfectly. Last season, I was like, “Hey, I’m outta town because I have a game on Wednesday, but I promise I’ll keep up all my work.” So they know that I have a game, I’m not slacking off of school.
On being a role model for NCFC youth
What’s it feel like to be a role model to many NCFC youth kids? Some of them are older than you!
It’s definitely cool. And it’s definitely a big honor. Like you said, some of the guys are like 18 or 17 so they’re definitely a lot older than me, but they’re still looking to me for advice. So I think that’s really special. I don’t think any kid plans at 16 years old on being a role model for the youth, but I’m in that position where get to do that. I’m really grateful and lucky to be able to share my experience so that other kids hopefully get to go pro just like me.
On this play from the Forward Madison match that I can’t get enough of.
We practice doing that to save it from being a goal. I don’t think we always actually planned to save a corner kick. From the scouting video, we knew how dangerous they were from set pieces and corner kicks. So I wanted to do anything that could prevent that from happening. I’d rather them have a throw-in than a set piece where they can set up, set up numbers, and get players in the box.
You were at the end where the supporter groups were. I know I could hear it from the other end of the field that they were letting you know that they appreciated that. Can you hear the supporter groups when you’re on that side of the field?
I don’t wanna say yes to the point where you start talking to me in the middle of the game. But I can hear the support and all their cheering. Their energy definitely helps a lot. As soon as I made that play, I just felt like their energy coming. And then I think right after that, I started pumping up MY team. I just feel support from the supporter groups and I just wanna translate that same energy to everyone else on the field.
On being mentored by players and coaches
What was it like playing with Jake McGuire?
Training alongside these guys is definitely extremely helpful. Jake McGuire had great experience last year because he played overseas in Sweden, but he also played for Philadelphia Union. He also played in college. We grew really close. He was definitely a person I looked up to as a role model, but also kind of like a big brother. We would talk all the time. I still talk to him now, every now and then. He taught me a lot of things that contribute to my game today. I definitely owe a big credit to him for that.
What’s it like training and playing alongside Will Pulisic?
This season, I get to train with Will Pulisic. He is 24 year’s old so he’s a lot closer to my age. I can relate to him a lot more. He’s had similar experiences: He played in Germany and I want to go to Germany when I turn 18. He’s also from Richmond and played at Duke. So we definitely bond over those things. I definitely look at him as a big role model for someone I want to model my game after.
What’s it like playing and training for Coach Mike McGinty?
Great. I’ve had basically two coaches since I’ve been at NCFC. I had Nathan Thackeray my first couple years of Academy. And Mike McGinty when I transition to the pro side. Those are two great coaches. Each have their own way of teaching. That is definitely really important when you’re still developing at a young age to learn different styles from different people. Mike has taught me a lot over the years and I think he also has great experience.
He has that overseas experience that I’m also looking for. When I went over to Germany, at the start of the season, he went with me. So he had some inside knowledge and he spoke a little German so that helped me out a little bit. He’s definitely a great person for me to have just coached me in been a great role model that I have.
On playing for the U17 US National Team
You were recently called up for two camps for the United States U17 National Team. How does that feel?
It was a big experience being called to the first two camps. It was my first experience playing with different players from all over the country. I got to meet a lot of different guys from different areas: one guy played in Spain, one played in Germany. It was cool getting to know all those guys. I hope that I keep being called because I hope to end up playing for the playing for the team in the 2023 U17 World Cup in Peru.
On dreams of playing in Germany at age 18 and eventually…Man City?
Right now, my focus is on the season. Once the season ends I plan to go back over to Germany and go on trial of different teams, just get my name out there and just let everyone know who I am. So when I turn 18, I already have a club lined up and I can just go straight over there. But my lifelong dream is to play for Manchester City at some point.
Who are the players that you look up to?
My biggest role model is definitely Zack Steffen who played at Man City. He was on loan now at Middlesbrough. He’s also an American keeper and played in Germany so he’s definitely a player I look after. I try to model my game after him being good with my feet and also at shot stopping. He’s had a similar path that I want to take.
And locally, it’s definitely Nazmi Albadawi. Naz has such a big impact on the community and me and him talk every now and then. He was a great leader and a great captain. My goal of course, is to be captain one day and to be a great leader. I definitely want to model myself after him. He is definitely a person to look up to.
Fun Facts about Nick
What team do you play as in FIFA?
I play as Man City or Atlético de Madrid. I like going ultra defensive and then I just counter attack.
When you sign autographs do you sign it as “Nick” or “Nicholas?”
I sign it as “N. Holliday“
When you’re plugged in on the bus, what are you listening to?
I like bouncing around. I’ll be honest. Yesterday I was listening to Rod Wave, Lil Baby, and also Bruno Mars. There’s time for rap music, but also time for feel good music. I’ll start singing it along in my head during warmups. And then a little bit of Drake at the end just to get me in the mood.
If you had to choose between Nike or Adidas forever, which would you choose?
That’s a good question. I’d say Nike. I wear Nike cleats. I like Adidas gloves better than Nike gloves. But I’d say Nike because I’d rather have my feet be comfortable than my hands.
That’s a bold statement for a keeper!
Yeah. I’d still say Nike because it looks better.
On game days, what’s your go-to meal?
I’ll walk you through it. I’ll eat the same breakfast every time: two eggs, hash browns, three pieces of bacon and two pieces of toast with cream cheese. Then I’ll have lunch. I’ll have my pregame meal at 2:30. I’ll go to Chipotle. I’ll get a bowl: Brown rice, black beans, chicken, Pico, corn, cheese, and a little bit of chips and salsa. I eat this every game day, it’s perfect.
Keeper gloves are notoriously stinky. What’s your strategy?
My mom definitely loves this now that I’m just at the stadium all the time, I never bring my gloves home anymore. It used to be before I signed my room just smelled awful. I’d bring my cleats in my room. I’d have my gloves. I’d have six different pairs of gloves just laying on the floor and it smelled awful. Will cleans his gloves so they don’t smell bad, but I don’t really care. I just hang them up in my locker and let them air dry and just let the moisture and the sweat just sink into the gloves!
Regarding fit checks on arrivals, how far in advance do you pick your outfit?
About a week in advance. If we play on Saturday, I will have it picked out the Saturday before. Just so I can make sure If i need to go to the store to get something, I have time to get it.
On Nick Holliday’s goals for the 2022 season
I want to help the team win. Whether I’m in the starting 11 for that game or I’m on the bench, I want to do my part to help the team win because at the end of the day I play for NCFC. I don’t play for myself. My main goal is to help the team get a spot in the playoffs and win.
My personal goal is to get five clean sheets. I’m at one so far and I have four more to go. Also I just want to get more experience. Obviously I’m still young, so I just want to keep developing my game because there’s a lot I can definitely build up on that will help me in the long run.
More Nick Holliday
I hope you enjoyed learning more about North Carolina FC player, Nick Holliday. Here are a few more links related to Nick!