Khiry Shelton’s first brush with outrageous fortune as a college athlete nearly spelled the end of his promising career.
“I actually played on it for a month,” Shelton says of the stress fracture that he picked up in his freshman season at Oregon State. “It bothered me quite a bit, but I kept playing on it for a month and it just got worse and worse, and then finally there was a game [at UC Davis] and I couldn’t run on it anymore.”
Upon returning to Corvallis, an X-ray revealed the fracture. Revealing the grim nature of the injury was soon to follow.
“The doctor said he didn’t know how my foot would heal and if I would ever be able to play soccer again,” Shelton says. “That was hard for me to hear knowing that I wanted to sign professionally.”
Luckily enough, it took only seven months and a surgery – luck is relative – for him to return to full fitness, but the injury bug bit again his sophomore year with a high ankle sprain, and again in his junior year with a stress fracture in his back.
Karma seems to be paying back the 6-foot-3, 175 pound striker out of Oregon State with interest. After the first injury-free season of his college career produced 10 goals, 12 assists, a Pac-12 Player of the Year award and the Beavers’ first trip to the NCAA tournament in over a decade, Shelton earned an invite to the MLS Combine in Lauderhill, Fla.
“He’d have to be considered one of [the best strikers at the Combine],” said Oregon State head coach Steve Simmons. “I’ve talked to a couple of guys that know Khiry from the Big Ten or the ACC, and they felt that Khiry was the best that they’ve seen this year.”
Indeed, Shelton is generally considered a top five pick, the best striker prospect in the 2015 SuperDraft behind Cyle Larin, the Generation adidas signing out of Connecticut.
“I wouldn’t say I’m better than a lot of people, I just have a different set of tools,” Shelton says. “I’m fast. I see the game really well, and I’m pretty technical on the ball with my speed, as well. Speed kills, but if you’re technical and you have speed you can dominate.”
Shelton grew up in an Army household – his father, Mike, served throughout Khiry’s childhood – and it shows when he talks. “Character” is a constant refrain, “yes, sir”’s pepper his responses, and he can be deferential to the point of delusional when discussing his talents as a player.
Growing up as an Army brat also unfortunately proved to be good preparation for high school, when his parents divorced and his mother, Jennifer, was laid off from her job at Intel in Colorado Springs.
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Khiry ended up in Leander, Texas, partly in order to help foster Khiry’s budding career as a soccer player. Playing for Lone Star Soccer Club, Shelton won the 2010 Disney Showcase and after his junior season at Vista Ridge High School, fellow Army brat Simmons was able to convince Shelton to leave Texas to play soccer at Oregon State. Through his first three seasons, injuries limited Shelton to 27 starts.
“My family kept pushing me and kept telling me that everything was going to be ok,” Shelton says of those discouraging years in Corvallis. “[Coach Simmons] told me everything was going to be alright everyday, just kept whispering in my ear and kept telling me ‘Everything’s going to be ok, Khiry, everything’s going to be ok.’ It was hard to believe then.”
Their words ended up being prophetic. With a goal to his name at the Combine and the best 30-meter dash time of any player there, Shelton is showing the kind of player he can be.
“It built character,” Shelton says of his past. “I’ve learned so much. I’ve dealt with so much that now when I’m faced with adversity I can handle it… It’s been a rough road.”