Zach Carroll, Michigan State, 2016 SuperDraft class

FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The biggest stars in college soccer are getting their professional careers underway this week, as a group of 60 of the best from the NCAA ranks have convened in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida for the 2016 adidas MLS Player Combine.

Michigan State senior defender Zach Carroll is in attendance in South Florida, and the highly-rated center back spoke to about life on and off the field as he prepares for the Jan. 14 SuperDraft.

The MLS Combine won’t be Carroll’s first of the winter

… Michigan State missed the NCAA tournament, but Carroll made the most of his extended offseason, participating in several team combines ahead of the main event in Ft. Lauderdale:

“We kind of had a short college year, so I was able to get to work right away preparing for the Combine…. I’ve been doing different individual team combines, I went to the [Las] Vegas combine for the Sounders, Toronto and New York, I went to the one-day combine at Columbus and then a couple days before this I was training with Toronto FC, just to train with them.”

The 6-foot-3 center back is strong in the air

… but he says his biggest strength is his positioning:

“My strengths are definitely aerial duels, winning headers. I like the physical aspect of the game, being strong against a forward or whoever. I’m also very calm on the ball, I like having the ball at my feet, not being the playmaker but just playing out of the back.

“I would say positioning is my biggest strength, though. I wouldn’t say I’m the most athletic, but I like to position well and be a smart player so I’m not in a foot race with anyone.”

Carroll has gotten his Combine advice from one of the most promising rookies from the 2015 season

… he’s spoken with former MSU teammate and current San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Fatai Alashe about the draft process, and talked with Toronto FC Homegrown Jay Chapman about the pro experience:

“I talked to Jay and Fatai a little bit. They helped me out a lot, just with kind of how it works at the Combine. I know Fatai came down here last year, Jay didn’t, but they helped me a lot through it, as did the coaches at MSU. ... Mostly their advice was just about trying not to do too much, just to play your game and show teams exactly who you are.”

He took a bit of a unique route in college

… starting out at the University of Virginia before transferring after his sophomore year to MSU, where he majored in Philosophy:

“When I first got into college I wanted to do something business-related, but those classes didn’t go so well. But I had a couple philosophy classes and I did really well in them and I liked them a lot. I enjoyed the kind of topics you’d talk about, and it’s more paper-based, fewer tests. I enjoyed those parts of it, so that’s how I kind of got it going.”

His favorite course covered existentialism

... which he says helps him with the mental side of his game:

“I definitely have to say existentialism was my favorite philosophy course, reading Sartre, Camus, Kierkegaard, those guys.

“Getting their different views on the world, how people inside of the world kind of view themselves and view others, it’s definitely interesting to read all that and kind of relate it back to yourself …. I would say it helps with soccer. Whether it’s one sentence that you picked out of a whole passage that you really liked or anything else you think you might be able to put back into the game, I think it’s definitely helped.”

Carroll was the placekicker for his high school football team

… he showed off quite the leg during practice, but didn’t get much run in games:

“The longest field goal I ever made was in practice and it was 55 yards. Our coach never liked to kick field goals, though. I think in two years I did a total of three, so it was mostly just kickoffs.”

The Michigan native watched as much MLS as he could growing up

… but modeled his game after a European stalwart:

“I’ve always loved [Serbian center back] Nemanja Vidic, he’s like the perfect blend of fierceness and technical ability. We’re definitely in two different stratospheres, but I’d like to think I could combine those parts of his game.”

Away from the game, Carroll has an artistic side

… and likes to spend as much time as he can drawing:

“I used to play video games a lot, like NHL and FIFA. But I actually really like to draw, that’s something I really like to do …. It’s weird because I’m really good at drawing, but I’m not creative at all. I can’t come up with anything in my head, but I’ll see something or a picture of something I like and re-create it.”

He’s quiet away from the sport

… but finds release in being vocal on the field:

“I’m very well-mannered and very kind of, for lack of a better word, just a gentle giant. It’s funny because like all my soccer friends, they’re kind of scared of me, they see me as this big, scary guy. But all my other friends outside of soccer, they see me as Zach, not the quiet guy, but I don’t really speak unless I have to.

“I’m definitely different on the soccer field, definitely very vocal … On the field, as a center back, you have to have that vocal presence. So it’s almost weird to kind of see yourself outside of soccer and then in soccer, because it’s almost like two completely different people.”

Like many in Michigan, Carroll is a big hockey fan

…. and is clearly very informed on the Detroit Red Wings:

“Other than soccer, I played baseball, basketball and then I’m a big fan of hockey, big Red Wings fan. This year’s just up and down for them, the big thing is we need to sort out our goalie. [Jeff] Blashill, the coach, keeps switching between the two, [Jimmy] Howard and [Petr] Mrazek, but once he picks one guy, I think we’ll be fine.”