Many athletes must overcome adversity in order to reach their ultimate goals. For senior defender Matt Kuehl, adversity early on in his soccer career became the driving force behind success.
Kuehl began playing soccer when he was five years old. By the time he reached high school, however, he would come face-to-face with the first obstacles of his young career.
A higher level of play and a shaky relationship with his team’s head coach all but killed Kuehl’s love of the game.
“Even before high school, I was one of the top players for my club,” Kuehl said. “But I didn’t appreciate it, I didn’t try in practice; I didn’t feel like I had to. Then in high school I didn’t get the playing time.”
When Kuehl graduated from Hononegah High School in 2006, he had ruled out playing college soccer.
“I was extremely discouraged,” Kuehl said. “I never wanted to see a soccer ball again.”
Kuehl took a position as an assistant mechanic for a company in Rockford, Ill., the summer after graduation. He spent three years away from soccer until an opportunity of chance presented itself when he enrolled in John A. Logan College in Carbondale, Ill.
Kuehl’s roommate during his time at John A. Logan was a random assignment who just so happened to play for Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s intramural soccer team. The team was short a few players, so Kuehl agreed to step in.
“I went out and played a couple times and the coach came up to me and told me I should be playing somewhere other than an intramural tournament in Carbondale,” Kuehl said. “I called my mom that night and said, ‘I know I have to do this, I know I need to play soccer.’”
Kuehl made the decision to seek out a spot on an NCAA Division III team. His search landed him at Kishwaukee College in Malta, Ill.
“I didn’t do anything as far as training for a sport in three years,” Kuehl said. “Preseason was the hardest thing that year. My coach pushed me really hard because he knew my capabilities. But I just remember coming home from practice most days feeling so happy. I knew that’s what I was supposed to be doing.”
After spending his freshman year of eligibility at Kishwaukee, Kuehl had completely turned his game around. He was ready to pursue a higher level of competition and set his sights on joining a Division I program.
With the guidance of his Kishwaukee coach, Josh Woita, Kuehl played several prospective players camps in northern Illinois, despite some negative feedback from a few D1 coaches.
“It made me want it more,” Kuehl said. “When someone tells you that you can’t do something that you really want, it just makes you want it that much more and it motivates you.”
When he graduated from Kishwaukee in December of 2010, Kuehl came in contact with recruiters from Bradley. His style of play fit well into the program, and he worked his way into the starting lineup by the fall season of 2011.
“It was hard to jump onto a team,” Kuehl said. “I was treated like a freshman only I was 22, 23 years old. But once my first semester was over I got to know a lot of the guys and I really enjoyed my spring season. Things have just been getting better and better.”
Now in the middle of his senior season with the Braves, Kuehl is preparing to graduate in December with a degree in sociology. As for post-graduation plans, he hopes to continue on in the sport he has grown so much in.
“Even if it’s not playing professional soccer, I want to stay in the sports field,” Kuehl said.
As for his decision to join the Bradley squad, Kuehl couldn’t be more pleased.
“My experience here so far has been a good one,” Kuehl said. “I’ve learned a lot and I’ve been pushed the way I wanted to be pushed. It’s what I was promised and that’s what I’ve gotten. It’s definitely been a journey. I wouldn’t ever take it back, I’m happy with the way it all turned out.”
You can catch Matt Kuehl and the rest of the Braves Wednesday at 6 p.m. when they take on nationally-ranked Northwestern at Shea Stadium.