Last week, SoccerNation families were introduced to San Diego Loyal Soccer Club goalkeeper, Jake Fenlason. A San Diego native, Fenlason grew up on the rec and club soccer fields around San Diego.
During SD Loyal’s Kit Reveal at Stone Brewery, I got the chance to sit down with Jake and talk all about his journey.
RB Renegades, back in the day
The Fenlason family hails from Rancho Bernardo in north San Diego. Jake grew up with his FIVE brothers, four older, one younger. Two or three days after he was born, in fact, he was at a soccer tournament. He played for local north county clubs like FC San Diego (FC Sockers), and RB Renegades. As is the case with so many clubs, the names changed as clubs merged. Eventually, Jake’s childhood clubs merged, morphed, and became San Diego Soccer Club.
Check out a map of San Diego club soccer here:
No ODP, No DA
As Jake was growing up, his talent was obvious to his coaches, teammates, and opponents. The US Soccer Development Academy (USSDA) didn’t exist during his younger years. The Olympic Development Program did exist. However, Jake was never a part of ODP. He told me, “Yeah, I was never in ODP, and that’s OK. It’s just how my journey went.”
Many parents and players with college and professional soccer goals feel pressure to be a part of ODP or DA. Jake’s story, on the other hand, is evidence that players can reach high levels in soccer without having been selected for ODP or Youth National Teams during their younger years.
“I just kept playing”
Jake said, “I just kept playing. Maybe it was because my parents were raising six boys, but they didn’t seem bothered that we were never in ODP or national teams. It wasn’t a big deal. We just kept playing and having fun.”
So, if Jake was never part of ODP or any national events, how did he end up playing for Akron — an NCAA D1 soccer powerhouse?
High School Soccer
Throughout high school, Jake kept playing for his club and his high school. He played varsity soccer at Rancho Bernardo High School with one of his brothers, in fact. He described, “High school soccer was awesome. I loved it. When I was a freshman, my brother was the varsity goalkeeper. That was so fun. I got pulled up to varsity for playoffs, so we got to be on the same team together.”
I asked Jake what he thinks of the DA not allowing players to play high school soccer. He shook his head a bit and replied, “Man, that’s hard. Soccer is growing so much here in this country. And I get it, the DA is so strong now. It wasn’t around back in my day, really. I didn’t have to choose between high school and DA. I’m glad I didn’t have to make that choice. I got to play for my school and my community. High school sports are such a great part of growing up.”
Senior Year: No D1 Offers
As Jake progressed through high school, college offers weren’t rolling in. He explained, “Yeah, I just wasn’t getting a lot of offers. But I KNEW that I would end up playing college soccer at a high level. I just knew it.” With a chuckle, he continued, “My mom stayed on me, making me call and email coaches all the time. It was just the right amount of pushing. I needed that. She stayed on me, but not too much.”
“I just knew I was going to end up playing D1 soccer”
“Going into my senior year, I still didn’t have any real offers. I had a few NAIA offers from smaller schools, but I just knew I was going to end up playing D1 soccer. I don’t know how I knew, and looking back, it’s kind of crazy. I just KNEW. And my coaches, especially Brian Quinn, really believed in me.”
“During my senior year, I still didn’t have any D1 offers. And Quinn sent my highlight video to Akron. He really advocated for me. Quinn believed in me, and he knew I could play D1 soccer at a top program. Caleb Porter and the staff and Akron really trusted Quinn, so they gave me a look.”
Preferred Walk-On at Akron
I asked Jake if he had “that feeling” when he went on a visit to Akron — the feeling when a player steps foot on a college campus and just knows this is the right school. Sarah Trent had that feeling. So did Sydney Sparks. Jake did, too. “I went on an official visit during my senior year. And, yeah, I knew it was the place for me. I loved it. They offered me a preferred walk-on spot on the roster. That means no athletic scholarship money, but I didn’t care. Akron is a huge D1 soccer program, and getting onto the roster was great. My grades in high school got me some academic money, too, so I got into the school and had some scholarship money.”
Take-aways for soccer families: Grades Matter, and you don’t have to have D1 offers in 9th grade
Next week will be all about Jake’s “Peak Soccer” years — and they’re still going! For now, though, SoccerNation readers can know that players who doesn’t have NCAA offers in 9th and 10th grades aren’t doomed to never play college or professional soccer. Jake’s academics, his determination, and his character were huge factors in his recruiting journey — just as much as his soccer and goalkeeping skills.
Stay tuned for next week!