John McDowell on his faith, what it takes to be a Captain, and his goals for the season

John McDowell is an 18 year old juggling high school with playing for the NCFC Youth Academy and time with the pro club, North Carolina FC. John sat down with me to talk about his soccer journey and his future plans. Along the way we talked about what it takes to be a Captain for the Academy team and his future plans at UNC Chapel Hill.

North Carolina FC player, John McDowell during pre-game warmups at WakeMed Soccer Park.
Photo: ©Gregory Ng of Follow Greg Sports

On his family’s soccer legacy and history at UNC

I’ve lived in Chapel Hill my whole life. My Mom is from here. Her Dad was the assistant basketball coach with Dean Smith back in the day. We live seven minutes from campus.

My Dad is from Denver, Colorado. My Dad has 4 sisters that all played ACC college soccer: two at UNC, one at Wake Forest, and one at Florida State. And then my Dad played at Holy Cross.

With your ties to Chapel Hill, I imagine your decision to go to Chapel Hill next year was an easy one?

My dad was a volunteer assistant with the women’s team when one of his younger sisters was there. So he’s known the guys but I never really knew how qualified I was of being an ACC soccer player.

The recruiting process is kind of strange. You don’t really know what level you’re at until coaches start reaching out. We didn’t really know where I was two years ago. On June 15th when college coaches can start reaching out to you was a pretty big day. I had a number of coaches interested on that day.

The U16 playoffs were right around that time and the games that we had were big. There were coaches lining up around the entire field which is crazy. I just performed well in those games and scored some big goals and right after those games I got more interest including at UNC.

I received an offer from UNC and after speaking with my family and going to visit I realized it really just checked all the boxes. I’m super excited to go there.

North Carolina FC player, John McDowell warming up before a pre-season match.
Photo: ©Gregory Ng of Follow Greg Sports

On growing up playing midfield

My Dad was my coach when I was young and he played midfielder so I played there too. Whether it’s defensive or attacking, that’s where I feel I am at my best. In the past I have played Striker sometimes because I have a tendency to always find a way to score. Midfield is where I was recruited and that’s where I’ll be playing.

I played basketball through middle school. I had to make a decision on which one I wanted to prioritize in eight grade. Honestly, I thought I was a pretty decent basketball player. I was a starting point guard for my school in eighth grade. But after that, I made a decision to focus on soccer.

I’ve been surrounded by soccer my whole life and I’ve always wanted to be the best at whatever I do. My competitive fire and competitive spirit propels me to strive to be the best.

On being Captain of the Academy Team

I like that responsibility of being Captain and being able to lead not just a couple players but the whole group. I feel I’ve improved my leadership verbally as well as by action. I used to not like to speak up very much in training. I think my teammates can attest that I have grown in that way. I feel I’m able to lead both through my actions and verbally to keep the standard high in training. When it’s high in training you know it always translates to the game.

A determining factor in leadership is ‘are people willing to follow you?’ John’s ability to motivate his teammates through his work ethic and determination on and off the pitch makes him an ideal Captain. Others can see how he works tirelessly every day to improve himself and the team. How can they not follow him?

Former NCFC Coach, MiCHAEL MilaZzo
North Carolina FC player, John McDowell stretching before a U23 match in 2022.
Photo: ©Gregory Ng of Follow Greg Sports

A busy schedule balancing school with the Academy, U23, and Pro teams before reporting for UNC

You are balancing high school with the Academy team and the USL1 Pro team. How do you manage it?

Yeah, it’s a lot, but I’m grateful for the opportunities. I’m technically graduated without actually being graduated. This semester I’m taking community college classes online at Durham Tech because I finished all of my high school requirements already. Those online classes means I have flexibility with my schedule. Whenever Coach Bradford calls me in to the Pro team, I’m able to go and when he wants me with the Academy I have the flexibility to go there.

How has that time between teams been for you recently?

All throughout preseason and into this regular season, I’ve [trained with the Pro team] most every day which has been great. And then sometimes I’ll pop back over the day before a game with the Academy, and get a good training in. I’m very close with those guys there. It’s a pretty easy transition back in with them.

How does your time between teams get prioritized? I know the U23 USL2 season is starting soon as well.

We prioritize the types of games I play. So if there is an Academy playoff game, as Captain of the Academy team, I will definitely be playing in that important game. For the U23s it is great to get quality minutes in there. With the U23s In the past, I’ve trained with with the Pro team throughout the summer. When I’m not with the Academy, and when I am not rostered for the Pro team, I will games with the 23s. It is a lot of bouncing around.

When do you then report for UNC?

I will be reporting I think mid to late July—so fairly early. The season’s rocking and rolling mid-August so I gotta be ready for the short preseason.

North Carolina FC player, John McDowell during a preseason match.
Photo: ©Gregory Ng of Follow Greg Sports

On being a role model for NCFC Youth Players

Being in the Pro environment has taught me a lot. It’s taught me different aspects within the game itself. But also how to set your professional standard on and off the field. I want to tell younger players to maintain discipline both in and out of training. Hold yourself to a high standard even when others may not and do everything you can outside of team training to get yourself better. Don’t limit yourself or settle, but work beyond what you think you can do. That’s what sets apart the good from the great. Maintain a strong mentality, pushing yourself everyday to be the best even when there are days you don’t want to work.

I want to add that no matter the environment I’m in, I’m able to have confidence because my value is in the Lord who’s blessed me with every opportunity within this club. Older, professional players have encouraged me to give my best effort and I hope to encourage and inspire younger players through playing and living for the Lord on and off the field.

North Carolina FC players, John McDowell and Nico Rincon
Photo: ©Gregory Ng of Follow Greg Sports

Fun Facts about John McDowell

When you do the Coin Toss, do you always choose the same choice?

I do not, but I’ve won quite a few times recently actually and I’m on one of those streaks.

Who is your favorite Pro player?

Messi, of course. But positionally, Kevin De Bruyne is my favorite. He’s the guy I try to model my game after.

What boot do you prefer?

This is very controversial because most guys know me as a New Balance guy because my feet are so fat. But I have recently been rocking the Nike Tiempos and I don’t know if I will go back especially because UNC is only Nike.

Who is your favorite Pro team?

Manchester City is my team. My secondary team is Barcelona because I’ve been able to travel there and actually be in the stadium for a game which is an awesome experience.

Who do you like to sit with on the bus?

Nico Rincon. Because we are similar in age and have similar tendencies.

What’s your match day routine?

I usually wake up a kind of a normal time—8:00. If I sleep too late I feel lethargic and tired. Then I’ll have a pregame breakfast. I don’t like to do too much physical activity. I’ll do some sort of bike and stretch and roll earlier in the morning.

Do you have a “go-to” match day meal?

Usually it’s some sort of Italian or some sort of pasta and chicken. I usually eat that four hours before the match.

How about post-game?

After the game, I feel like a lot of energy is sucked out—especially if I play most the game. So I definitely eat and drink afterwards and try to get some sugar in me.

I’m a Christian. Usually my routine is before bed, I do my devotional, getting the word— the Bible for about 20-30 minutes, and then pray and go to bed. I was just talking with one of the guys about this. It was about a year ago, on Easter, that I got baptized.

North Carolina FC player, John McDowell during a preseason match.
Photo: ©Gregory Ng of Follow Greg Sports

John’s Goals for the Season

I have a lot of goals this season. First and foremost, just being in that Pro environment as much as possible and continuing to earn the respect of the guys. The goal is to get on the roster and get in the game as much as possible with the Pro team.

In terms of the Academy I want to continue to help them push for a playoff spot and help them go far in the playoffs. I think we’re very capable of doing that.

Within the games themselves, my goal is continuing to make the biggest impact I can, setting up my teammates for success, and scoring on most opportunities I get. So being even more clinical especially in those Academy and U23 games.

More John McDowell

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