This year's Generation adidas class has featured some late surprises, among them the addition of UNC midfielder Omar Holness. The native of Kingston, Jamaica already boasts international tournament experience, and has quickly drawn praise from MLS club staff at the adidas MLS Combine 2016.
Holness started his international career young
UNC scouted Holness while he was playing for the U-20 team in his native Jamaica:
"A UNC player was playing on the US team we were playing, and the coach saw me and was impressed out. Then I went on a visit to UNC and it was superb."
But academics have always come first
Even though Holness's club and country career were already going by his teens, he decided on an NCAA stint for the educational opportunities.
"Growing up, I took my education really seriously, and my parents did too. They're advocates of balancing both of them and ensuring that I have a stable background moving into soccer."
His biggest life accomplishment came off the field
It's no surprise then, that academics played into Holness' views of his own achievements:
"Getting accepted to such a prestigious university as UNC would be my main accomplishment. I didn't see myself going to such a big college, and even getting a full scholarship."
And a little math doesn't scare him
Before leaving UNC to take the Generation adidas contract, Holness was pursuing a sociology degree on an interdisciplinary track: "Management and Society".
"It's a mixture of economics and business modules and sociology. Economics can be really strenuous and really hard – it's a lot of math. But I like all the aspects of sociology and I find it so interesting."
Injuries almost sidelined him forever
Holness suffered a major knee injury in October 2011, which required surgery that kept him off the field for nearly all of the following year:
"It kind of dampened my spirits and my motivation. There was a point in time where I actually thought I wouldn't continue, but with my love for the game, I had to.
"I spoke with a few guys that went through the same knee injuries, a few national team members at the time like Ricardo Fuller and Rodolph Austin. Those more experienced guys really walked me through it and told me, ‘Hey, it's just a bump in the road and you'll be fine going forward, and you just have to be mentally strong."
Yet he reached Jamaica's senior roster
"Being part of the Gold Cup finalist team against Mexico was my biggest accomplishment on the field. I think that experience was incredible, completely enjoyed every minute of it."
Can offer inspiring book recommendations
… as an avid reader:
"When I'm not playing soccer, I like to read. The last book I read was the autobiography of Drew Brees. That's probably my favorite book, since it showed what he went through after Hurricane Katrina, and how he had to regroup the guys and get them focused. It was completely amazing."
Follows his musical inclinations
"I'm just now learning to play guitar!"
And most admires this young MLSer:
"I don't like to look at other players and emulate them, but I'd have to say I admire to Rob Lovejoy. He just went through the draft last year and he had an amazing rookie year.
"To see what he did, I kind of look up to him in that sense, because a lot of people had him written off. A lot of people didn't think he would be where he was, but he defied the odds.
"And did you see that goal he scored? That was an impressive goal for the Houston Dynamo!"
But his No. 1 influence and cheerleader is …
"My older brother, Nickolai, who's 24, has been so influential in my life. He played at University of Tampa up until his sophomore year. He stopped playing, and his role right now is just to fully motivate me and support me in everything I do, soccer-wise.
"Back home, he was like my coach. Even during my injury, he was always there for me whenever I needed him; whenever I need anything like a word of encouragement, he was there. That just speaks to how much he loves me and how much he wants to see me succeed."