Sport

Clayton Scott thrives in US experience

By Brayden May

It might be the world game, but in Echuca-Moama sport is a whole other world where a round ball simply doesn’t go into an oval hole.

And that was the challenge Clayton Scott faced growing up in the twin towns, where winter belongs to (Australian Rules) football (as opposed to the world’s football, known here as soccer) and netball (our round ball) as the most popular sports among kids during winter.

In this corner of the world you could have been, indeed probably were, described as an outlier if you were playing soccer.

But being different is pretty much the normal for Scott.

That’s because he doesn’t just play soccer/football; he is his team’s goalie — a slot invariably filled by the strangest character in a soccer team.

But Scott may well laugh last — and loudest — as his strange choices are already taking him places.

Places such as a two-year scholarship at Pratt Community College in Kansas.

He has just returned home where it was immediately apparent the “new” Scott had grown seriously as a player and as a leader.

“It was my first time leaving home, so I wasn’t sure what to expect,” Scott said.

“The town is very similar to Echuca, which helped me to settle into the lifestyle, but the training routine was completely different.

“When I first arrived, we were training twice a day, but that went down to one when school started. Trying to balance training and my schoolwork was a challenge at first, but I was able to overcome it.

“By the start of my second season, I had a routine in place and that made life a lot easier.
“I was the captain of the team, which is something I’ve always done in my career. I enjoy those roles because they give me valuable experience.”

And the opportunity only came after being spotted online through an agency website by his college coach Kevin Kewley.

“He reached out and told me he needed a keeper because they conceded too many goals the season before,” Scott said.

“The highlights package which I was able to put together helped to attract some attention from around the US.

“There was pressure to perform straight away and that’s not because I come from Australia.

“There were still two other players I had to beat for the starting position. Having a strong competitive drive certainly helped me through that.”

While Scott enjoyed a dream start to life in the American Midwest — where more than 90 per cent of Kansas land is dedicated to farming — COVID-19 caused a frustrating finale.

It meant no official graduation and what was planned to be a great family memory was snatched away at the last minute.

“It’s upsetting to think my family wasn’t able to see me graduate,” he said.

“It was certainly a difficult situation and it seemed to get worse with every day that went past.

“One minute we were being told to enjoy spring break, then that you’re getting an extra week to then a few hours later being told you have to come back now, get your stuff and get off campus.

“It was certainly very frustrating and confusing.

“But keeping everyone safe was paramount and I can understand why those decisions were made.”

During his two years abroad Scott didn’t just experience the American lifestyle.

Playing the world game meant he lived, studied and played alongside Brazilians, English and Puerto Ricans.

“It was a terrific experience living with all of those people,” Scott said.

But he was also confronted by other sides of the American psyche, such as wandering into a Walmart on his first day and seeing a whole wall lined with guns — of every shape, size, firepower and price.

“Americans do like to go hunting and they do like guns. That day in Walmart was a little bit ridiculous,” he said.

“Then there are the English guys who are very much party boys who do like to go out and have a good time. They did teach me some funny things.

“My roommate was from Brazil, so he was interesting.

“Hearing them talk to their families is quite interesting. Italians sound like they’re yelling at each other over the phone when they are just having a normal conversation.”

Not even the most passionate soccer fans may be too familiar with the college game in America, but Scott described playing in the top division as a challenging experience.

“You are playing against the top kids your age from around America and there are other players who have been brought in from countries around the world,” he said.

“These guys are at the top of their physical and technical ability. It’s good in a sense to play against people my age, but I’ve always played against people older than me throughout my career.

“So, it wasn’t as much of an eye opener as it was for other people.”

To improve his skills, Scott said he kept a close eye on what the world’s best were doing.

That includes Manuel Neuer, who plays for German giant Bayern Munich, and at one time was considered the world’s best goalkeeper.

So much was Neuer’s influence on the game, many people have said he rewrote the goalkeeping handbook with his “sweeper keeper” style.

And Scott has followed the trend of adopting this style.

“I try and act as a sweeper as much as possible,” he said.

“If a long ball comes in, then I want to try and rush out and get it. Sometimes you can be made to look silly because it’s a split decision between getting it right or wrong.

“I can also be a bit aggressive because I don’t like to be pushed around. I will get in your face if you touch me.

“I like having a presence out on the pitch.”

While shot-stopping is Scott's main role, he now also has a responsibility to help put his team in a position to score.

“Feeling comfortable with the ball at your feet is crucial,” he said.

“In my younger days, we were told to have a stronger focus on stopping the ball, but now a goalkeeper has to be able to have the ball played into their feet.

“Distribution is just as important because some teams do like to play out from the back.”

While Scott is enjoying his time at home, his journey is about to start again.

“It’s just the start of another big recruiting process now,” he said.

“I’ll send out a lot of emails and highlights to colleges across the country from my past two years and hopefully some of those coaches like what they see.

“There has been a little bit of interest, but I’ll have to see what happens when the whole COVID situation is over.”

Despite everything remaining unclear for the rest of the year, Scott does have a goal in mind much further down the road.

“I would love the opportunity to play professionally,” he said.

“It’s currently a work in progress, but we all do have big dreams of reaching the peak.

“Anything is possible if I put my head down and work hard.”

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