I knew exactly what I wanted to do at a very young age. I have drawings from as early as 3rd grade depicting I wanted to play soccer when I grew up. I was born in Slidell, Louisiana. I grew up in a single parent home along my younger brother and sister. We moved from Louisiana shortly after I was born. My family moved around a lot when I was a kid so every year or two we were somewhere new. Most of the time, I found myself in a completely new state, trying to settle down and find new friends.
When I was little, soccer was by far the least popular sport. So I spent a lot of time alone with a ball. Because there were no soccer fields to go to, I would kick the ball on concrete roads and in my backyard. I’d kick the ball wherever I could find a spot. This resulted in a lot of expenses due to broken windows, fence boards, and numerous other things around the house.
As a young boy, I never had the opportunity to play organized soccer other than 2-3 years of recreational soccer.
After bouncing around from state to state, I finally found some stability when we moved to Anthem, Arizona. My primary focus and interest was in playing soccer. When I was 14 years old and shooting on an open field, I was asked if I’d like to join a local club called “Anthem Soccer Club.” I played with the club about one full season when I got the chance to try out for the Boulder Creek high school soccer team. I made the team, but unfortunately, my family moved before our first game.
After Arizona, I ended up in a small town in Pennsylvania called Spring Grove. This is where I was finally able to play my first and only year of school soccer. I enjoyed every bit of the time I played there because it was a brand new experience for me. Coming from, what I later found out, a very inexperienced soccer background, I was very proud to start on both JV and Varsity. Shortly after the school year ended, I found myself in Warner Robins, Georgia.
I spent a long time in Warner Robins and learned a lot about myself as a player and a person.
Though that year would be the end of my formal schooling and school soccer, I did not let my soccer career end there. I couldn’t go to school much due to family issues, so I had all the time in the world to play soccer. Having access to a soccer field made it much easier to train. I was, with no exaggeration, at the soccer field from 1:00pm to 11:00pm every single day, and would walk back home at night.
After several disagreements, I moved out at age 17, thinking I could handle life on my own. I was able to train whenever I wanted and washed dishes at a local Outback to pay my rent. During my stint in Warner Robins, I played in numerous Sunday leagues and several seasons of COED adult league. These opportunities, along with my club season at CGSA and individual practice awarded me an incredible amount of exposure to soccer.
Following more turbulence in my teenage years, I was forced to move to South Carolina where my mom tried to help me get my feet back under me. I found a park next to our house where I continued my individual training. I was asked to join a Sunday league team and the cycle of finding places to play started all over again, I soon found more leagues to play in. At one point I was playing in two leagues on Sunday, and a league on Monday and Wednesdays as well.
During my time in South Carolina, I learned more about the game of soccer. This is where I learned that if I wanted to play professionally, I would have to act like a professional. I completely remapped my diet and my schedule. I would wake up at 5am to do my first workout every single day and then do another workout in the evenings. I would do soccer specific training and I quickly started to notice differences in my effectiveness on the pitch.
I met a lot of people over the course of the following year, including my current fiancé, Savannah Johnson, (whom I owe every bit of my success to the work she put in behind the scenes) and her daughter Ava.
Savannah convinced me to move back to Warner Robins. Similar to every other move, my first thought was, “Okay, where can I play soccer?” In the meantime, I played pickup soccer, trained in Savannah’s back yard, and kicked a ball against a wall, as I had done my entire life. In South Georgia, if you wanted exposure and to be seen in soccer, you needed to go to Atlanta. But I never had the funds to make it to Atlanta. So, I stayed at my local club, until I saw a post on Facebook about tryouts for a semiprofessional team called Georgia Revolution. I had no idea if I would be successful in the tryouts, so I told Savannah that if I did not make the team, I would focus on finding another career. Before the tryout, just to be safe, I applied at GEICO. I completed the entire interview process, including job shadowing. In the end, I was offered the job, but I turned it down. I had a feeling the Georgia Revolution tryout would work out for me.
This was my big chance to show everyone what I could do. A little boy from nothing was going to play semiprofessional soccer in Atlanta. And, I did just that!
I went to the tryout and was asked to join the program 45 minutes into the tryout. Afterwards, I told everyone I would because I was so proud that I could tell people, I accomplished something.
My family expects a lot of me, and when I say that I don’t mean good grades and good behavior. I’m talking about top level careers, amazing degrees from big schools… and me, I want to play soccer. Needless to say, at this point in my life, there were a lot of things running through my mind. But mostly, it was that I would get to play soccer at a high level. Since I had nowhere to play before the NPSL season began, the Revs kindly permitted me to play on their Reserve team, which was still a higher level than I had ever played previously. I was excited for this opportunity and did fairly well. In only 7 games, I had 5 goals and 3 assists as a winger.
The NPSL season was here and I was ready to go! But, it didn’t go as planned. Game after game, I was left out of the lineup. I slowly got more and more discouraged, and eventually didn’t even want to show up to practice. I did not want to show my face in my hometown because I was afraid people were ashamed of me for not living up to their expectations. However, during this slump, I never once stopped trying. Every single practice, I gave everything. I drove 1.5 hours every single day, to get to practice an hour early. I wouldn’t get home until midnight. I had to go to work for a tree service the next morning at 7am. I worked hard every single day to earn my minutes and the minutes never came. I’d like to think I wasn’t good enough because that sits easier on my mind. So, what is the real answer to my problem? I came up with the idea to work even harder. I went from training once a day to training 2-3 times every single day, knowing it would eventually pay off. And, it did! After I changed my training routine, I played every game for the Georgia Revolution. Although sore from the previous week of training, I just knew it would pay off.
I always thought, if I can just outwork everyone around me, then they can’t possibly ignore me.
One day, my coach of the Revs reserves, Scott Redding, asked me if I wanted to play in a scrimmage against the U.S Virgin Islands national team. Of course I said yes! He told them I would only get minimal playing time because other players were meant to be scouted and I wasn’t on the radar. I happily accepted to play anyway! I made the three-hour drive to Rome, Georgia to play my 30 minutes in a scrimmage. Afterwards, the coach walked up to me, of all people, asking if I wanted to stay and train with them for the next four days! I called Savannah to make sure it was okay because she was pregnant with our son, Rowan Clay Adams. She was excited and supported me to stay for the next four days to train in a professional environment for this amazing experience. After the stay, I was informed Coach Marcelo was interested in bringing me to his USL team (At the time, I had no idea where it was or anything else.)
I took Coach Marcelo’s assistant information and went back to Warner Robins with my experiences and continued to train. I tried messaging and contacting Coach Marcelo’s assistant but after about three months, I received a message saying he was no longer affiliated with the club and best of luck with my process.
I thought for sure I had hit another road block and would go through another dry spell. Nonetheless, I never let it discourage me and continued to focus on my training.
After about four more months, I received an email about an open tryout in Atlanta for ATLUTD 2. Finally, I had something to look forward to! My training became more intense and I made sure I was ready. I went into the tryout with confidence even though there were over 200 players attending. The tryout went very well, but did not work out in my favor and I took the rejection very hard. I went to the gym a couple nights a week. I just talked to myself because I knew the people around me were getting tired of hearing about my wild dreams of playing professional soccer.
Then, I got an email about another open tryout in Bettendorf, Iowa. This time, the tryout was for the Austin Bold FC, who I had avidly been following on every social media platform! The tryout was in two weeks so I had limited time to sort out my flights and hotel arrangements. Luckily, Savannah’s father is a pilot and had reward points for a free flight. The person I traveled and tried out with, my former Coach Scott Redding, had reward points which covered a hotel room for us. I continued to train until the day before the tryout. During both days of the tryouts, I felt I played the best soccer I’ve ever played. Knowing I did well, I was still very nervous about Coach Marcelo’s evaluation.
I called Marcelo three days after the tryout and was informed I would be brought to preseason. I couldn’t believe it; I was invited to a trial for a professional soccer team!
I continued to train as the days flew by. I was told I needed to speak with the GM of Austin Bold, Roberto Silva. Of course, I was nervous about this. Then, he called and gave me news I still think about today.
He told me the Club wanted to go ahead and sign me! I was going to live my dream and play professional soccer!
Now I’m here and it’s all real. It really happened! My countless passes against a wall, my hours upon hours spent by myself, the times I had to use flashlights to play at night because I wasn’t finished with my training. All the times I was laughed at, all the times people looked at me crazy when I told them I would play professional soccer. All the times my own family told me it would never happen. It was all worth it! Hard work and determination trumps all. I believed in myself every bit of the way. Even if I couldn’t say it out loud, I knew deep down that I would make something of myself and be something my children could look up to. I want to be the person who inspires young players who might share an experience similar to mine. I want them to know they can do it too even if they don’t have access to the soccer academy or expensive teams that heavily influence American soccer.
Clayton Adams – Professional Soccer Player