cover photo belongs to Wayne Tilcock/Enterprise photo
Kris Schultz graduated from UC Davis in 2015 and has since spent time playing professionally on the southern hemisphere. Coming straight out of college, Schultz played for New Zealand's Canterbury United last year. Now in Australia, Schultz opens up about dealing with multiple injuries at UC Davis, the hurdles to becoming a pro, and what life is like in Australia.
You attended UC Davis from 2011-2015. Obviously you spent a lot of time on campus. What stands out about your time away from the field?
Off the field, I loved the college town atmosphere, the large student body, and the beautiful campus. I love being around so many people and meeting new people every day. I couldn’t imagine having attended a smaller school. I had a lot of fun and the weather is beautiful in Davis. There is no place like Northern California and growing up in Sacramento I was close to my mom and dad. And they could come watch most of my games. They are my biggest fans and supporters and I could not be where I am without them.
Academically it was very challenging. Currently I believe Davis ranks as the #6 public school in the country. Many people imagine college athletes as receiving “special treatment” in the classroom. We at Davis had it much harder than the average student body. Training, meetings, weights, travel, and stress of being a D1 athlete can sometimes be overlooked. Missing class due to travel was far worse than anything else. I would have to get the notes from a classmate, meet with the professor in office hours, and play catch-up most of the time to stay on top of my academics. Professors don’t care if you had 7am training and haven’t left campus since when you’re nodding off in an 8pm lecture.
I had an amazing roommate throughout college, Ramon Martin Del Campo, who is currently the starting center back at Ottawa FC in the USL. Ramon pushed me and supported me in my recoveries from injury. Time management plays a big role and allowed me to succeed on the field, academically, and have an amazing college experience and social life.
You redshirted your first year at UC Davis and you suffered a pretty severe setback with an ACL injury. How do you look back at your time with the team at UC Davis?
On the field, I had my biggest triumphs and setbacks. I believed I was the number one goalkeeper from the minute I stepped on the field at Davis. I ended up redshirting my first year. It was frustrating but allowed me to develop as a player. I had my mind set to become the starter in my second year as a redshirt freshman and trained very hard. I put everything I had into perfecting m craft and pushed my body. I ended up behind a talented older goalkeeper. I got some playing time but I wasn’t satisfied. I felt politics and other things were keeping me from playing, not my performance, but such is life and the nature of the game.
Going into the winter and spring of my second year, I believe I had started to separate myself when I started having horrible hip pain. I was diagnosed with FAI (Femoral Acetabular Impingement) a diagnosis where my hip bones were too thick for my hip socket and I had completely shredded my labrum in both hips. Because I was battling for the starting spot I didn’t want to give anyone an excuse for me not to play so I continued to push. It led to me needing two extensive hip surgeries where each hip was surgically dislocated and the bones shaved down and labrum stitched up before being put back into place. This began a 10 month recovery process, which was the hardest experience of my life. It challenged me emotionally, mentally, as well as physically.
I missed my entire third year of eligibility due to recovering from my hip surgeries, I supported my teammates while undertaking what I called “the comeback”. I was Awarded Big West Sportsmanship of the year Award for my support of my team. (I flew to Portland and drove myself to away games to watch my team.) During “the comeback” I would say almost no one believed I would come back from my hip surgeries to play at a high level. Outside of my parents, my athletic trainer, and a couple of my roommates essentially everyone had written me off. I put my head down, prayed and dedicated every minute of every day to comeback.
I came back for the next season, and despite everything I won the starting spot undisputed . Despite what seemed like more politics and people being unsure of me, I didn’t care and was never outplayed in a single training session. In the first weekend of my redshirt junior season I was named Big West Player of the week after a 0-0 shutout and a 2-1 win. I played the remainder of the season holding the lowest GAA in the Big West and leading my team unbeaten until a conference game down at Cal State Northridge. In a 0-0 game, which I was playing extremely well, I came out to clear a through ball, followed through and landed awkwardly on my kicking leg, and heard a pop. I fell and with 30 seconds left in overtime my athletic trainer informed me that she was certain I had torn my ACL. On crutches, I made it back to the hotel in LA, and without any sleep, I cried to myself all night.
I gave everything I had into another comeback, this time from ACL reconstruction surgery, which I had two weeks after the initial tear. I spent the next ten months recovering and rehabbing. Once again, I came back, and was cleared two weeks before preseason started. On report date, I hadn’t played since I tore my ACL the year before. I played very well during my fifth year, despite not having a complete off season to train. In the end of the season I played three of the best games I had in my career and helped our team reach the Big West Tournament semifinal.
I enjoyed playing at UC Davis. I persevered through adversity to succeed on the field despite many things working against me. It was challenging academically but I came out with a degree and a minor. I met so many people including my best friend Ramon and played in a top conference. I persevered through three serious surgeries that for many would be career ending. I thank God, My parents, my teammates, and my amazing athletic trainer who helped me get through the ups and downs on the field.
When you were originally trying to make the jump from the college game to professional, what worked and what didn't? Is there anything you'd do differently, looking back?
There are many challenging things when trying to make this jump. First off, I do not believe the college game truly prepares you for the next level. For example, a college season only goes for about two months, give or take a few weeks. (22 games with two games a week). So over a career of four years, you’re in season for eight, maybe nine, months, when one pro season will last about that long. When you finish your college career you’re about 22 years old, when throughout the world, you become a pro at 17-18. So you’re behind the curve already.
What works, I believe is a combination of two things. The first is having the right connections to get an opportunity to play or trial somewhere, and the second is being completely ready when an opportunity comes to take advantage of it.
Personally, I tried everything from emailing coaches, going on trials, calling people, I thought about getting an agent. Things didn’t work out at first but you must be diligent and not give up. But you must be ready when that opportunity comes and I wanted to be ready. So I trained every single day after I left college multiple times a day. I worked with different goalkeeper coaches, on my own, and with a training performance specialist who works with NFL players in Sacramento named Mike Johnson who owns the athletic enhancement center Playmakers Elite. He helped my physically get ready. I grew as a player and a person during this period while I was training, essentially working and waiting for my opportunities.
After college you need to train like a pro, do everything from monitoring your diet, sleep schedule, training programs, and even mental training to be able to perform at the highest level possible. You must contact coaches and create a network to look for somewhere to trial. You can’t give up, you never know when you’ll get an email saying a team is looking for your position and what if you’ve been sitting on the couch for a month and aren’t ready? It can be discouraging after being told no repeatedly or having trials not end in a contract. What I did was give myself a time line. I said "I’m going to give everything have to train into this for a certain period no matter what, after that I'll reassess where I’m at."
Originally you landed in New Zealand. How did that unfold? And what stood out about the culture surrounding the game?
I ended up in New Zealand through word of mouth to a team who was looking for a top keeper. After being in contact with them it was a win-win for both parties and I headed across the world.
New Zealand, and the rest of the world, is different to America as how we deal with college. Top high school athletes go play at top universities, where around the world top high school athletes go pro. So many players are younger or about my age but have been playing at that level for much longer than I have.
I can say I had a generally positive experience in New Zealand and was lucky to play for a very professional club. The players were great and there was great banter in the locker room. It can be hard to adjust to meeting new people but I didn’t have problems at all in New Zealand. The hardest thing was driving on the opposite side of the road.
Tell us a little about the move to Australia. What team are you with now? And how would you describe the city to someone who has never visited?
My move to Australia was very pleasant. I am playing for the South Adelaide Panthers. The club here is also very professional and I enjoy it thus far. I am living in Adelaide which is in South Australia and all I can say is that it’s beautiful. I can go to beach before training, snorkel on off days, and go fishing in the ocean. It’s pretty much paradise. I can describe it as being like southern California, but without pollution or over population. It’s really clean here and everyone is very pleasant.
Is there a common question you're asked as an American overseas?
Every single person, whether in New Zealand or Australia, asks me about President Trump and what my thoughts are about him. It’s interesting though because people around the world have distinct views which are based off what the media in their country show. Everyone also asks me after they learn I’m from California if I know any movie stars.
What's the long term goal? Returning to the US the goal at some point or do you want to continue playing overseas?
Long term I would love to make enough money playing football to live well enough to be able to support a family. I want to eventually live in America when it’s time to settle down but I’m not sure at this point where my career will take me or how long It will last. After this season, I may try to return to the US and play there but there are so many unknowns until then. Currently Australia is amazing and I’m not in a hurry to leave, but I do miss home.