Brian Billings graduated from Bradley University after starting four years at the Division 1 program. Despite having the tangibles to play at the next level, Billings went undrafted in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft and struggled with injures in overseas trials. Brian talked about his time at Bradley, leading up to the draft, the trip abroad, and where he is now in his search to become a professional.
How did you end up at Bradley?
I was originally getting recruited to many other schools that include Notre Dame, New Mexico, St. John’s, and some smaller schools like Adelphi, Jacksonville, and Oakland University. But I decided to go with Bradley because it was the closest to home and the nice scholarship that they gave me. Another big factor was because of my relationship with my father. He wanted me to go to a school that I would most enjoy and he supported my decision to go to Bradley. Throughout four years of playing there, he never missed one game. Also there was the passion coach Jim DeRose showed. He cares more about his players both on and off the field than any other coach that I have met.
What are your thoughts on NCAA as an outlet for developing players? Do goalies get more out of collegiate play than field players?
It is very difficult for goalkeepers. Many colleges don’t have goalkeeper coaches. It’s also difficult for the NCAA as an outlet for developing players because of the structure of the season. A small season crunched into three months doesn’t give a great chance for coaches to actually coach and help their players get better. When you are done with one game you have to quickly watch game tape, meet with coaches, and then prepare yourself for the next match.
Did you think about how much of a springboard Bradley would be for you to the next level? Were you worried about playing at a smaller school and lack of exposure?
Of course playing at a smaller school doesn’t help exposure but I wouldn’t think of Bradley as a smaller school. Throughout my four years of being a starter, we made the NCAA tournament three times, won the conference tournament, and beat many nationally ranked teams, such as UCONN at UCONN when they were the number one team in the country!
Playing right away was something that I really wanted to do and Bradley was a great chance for that. I was lucky enough to get my coaches’ trust and gained the starting job about five games into my freshman season. Bradley did help me gain a lot experience because of the style they play. I would occasionally have to make seven to twelve saves again where as goalkeepers at other schools would make just two or three.
What's crucial for players that are under the radar but want to keep going after NCAA? Where do they need to look?
The most important thing for a player that is under the radar is to never give up. Reach out to coaches and show interest because coaches don’t just want good players, they want players that are willing to work hard and strive to get better. For me, the best decision I made to try to play professionally was attend a small college prep school by the name of Shattuck St. Mary’s in Faribault, Minnesota. Tim Carter is the program director there and has done an amazing job developing players and helping them get to where they want to be as a player as well as a person.
Did you have any expectations when MLS draft time came around? Were in you in talks with any clubs?
I hoped to be drafted because throughout my junior and senior season I was getting a lot of exposure. I was a four year starter and Top Drawer Soccer had me ranked top five goalkeepers in my draft class. When the draft came around, many people told me they have been talking to a few MLS teams. The draft didn’t work out but that’s life. Everything happens for a reason.
Talk about your trials overseas. Where did you go? And of course talk about your injury. How severe is it?
I went overseas three times. Each time was successful except for the last one when I got hurt. I trained and played with Fenerbahce’s U18 youth academy. I trained with Galatasaray’s youth academy. I was on trial with Antalyaspor and also İstanbul Başakşehir Futbol Kulübü. Each club reception was nothing but great. Everyone was kind and very willing to try to talk with me but the language barrier was difficult. Not many people spoke English.
Antaylaspor was the best opportunity, after my sophomore year. They offered a six month youth contract where I would be paid an average week fee and they would house me as well. After those six months they would decide if they wanted to keep me or not. I chose to go back to Bradley for my junior and senior years because I thought MLS was an option. Looking back, if I could have that chance over I would take it in a heartbeat.
Unfortunately on this last trip, my hips weren’t 100% going into it. I had torn both hip labrums and the pain was too much to try and play. The doctor said that there will be pain when I’m older but getting surgery will help me in the long run.
After the trail you came back as a collegiate assistant coach. How did that unfold?
As soon as I came back from Turkey I was offered an assistant coaching position at the prestigious Macalester College. There was talk between the coach and I before I left for Europe. I let them know as soon as I got back and everything worked out to let me join their staff. Being around soccer is something that makes me feel at home. I love practicing and coaching and my main focus is to help people that want to get better. Having the feeling of people who appreciate what you are doing for them is the best feeling.
What’s it like being on the other side of the sideline now?
As a coach, my goal is to help players learn from what I have learned. But even if I know everything there is to know about the game, if I can’t relate with the players then teaching them becomes much more difficult. A coach has to be willing to learn from their players to help them succeed. Having an open mind as a coach is very important.
What are your professional aspirations now?
My professional aspirations are higher than ever. Being away from soccer and rehabbing my surgery makes me only want to play soccer more. It has been my dream to play professional soccer and I will try until my body can’t take it anymore. You hear plenty of great stories from time to time about players coming out of nowhere to being starters for their team and I hope one day that will be me.