We're excited to connect with our alumni through our Darlington Connects series. Today, we hear from Darlington School and Soccer Academy alum Myles Englis ('12), a Division I National Champion who is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in Sport Psychology at Florida State University.
“How many touches does a wall take in your house?” The age-old question Chad Liddle asks when introducing “1-2’s” or wall passes to young Soccer Academy players. I don’t think anyone has ever answered the question correctly, but if you polled every Academy player since 2004, they would all remember that question and would never forget that a wall pass needs to be one touch again for the rest of their playing career.
The Darlington Soccer Academy is unique. I have friends who have played at other academies in the United States and in professional academies overseas. Sure, the playing experiences were different, but there is one thing that sets the Darlington School Soccer Academy apart. Life-long connections. Not just friends, coaches, or that one person you see on Instagram and remember that one trip together (having Coach Chad’s kids, Alex and Landon on our shoulders at Tower of London that sprung into an international “chicken fight”) , but real connections. Those kinds of connections where you know there’s always a bond between you. Whether or not you played on the same team or were at even at Darlington at the same time, it doesn’t matter. There’s an unspoken bond between members of the Darlington School Soccer Academy, the coaching staff and that bond lasts a lifetime.
If you got two Soccer Academy players together who never crossed paths, say one who graduated in 2012 and one who will be graduating in 2023, they would likely start chatting about similar experiences they’ve had, Chad-isms they know and repeat ad-nauseum, or trips they were on that mirrored one another. Give that conversation another 10 minutes and they’ve exchanged information and will do what they can to help that other person grow down the line however they can.
Some of my best friends from high school I would have never met if it weren’t for the Soccer Academy. One just got engaged in California, one just became a dad in Arkansas, and one is a dad up in Alaska. We haven’t seen each other in ages, but if we messaged each other, we’d be able to pick up like we’d been talking just the other day. It’s truly beautiful and those kinds of connections are what makes the Academy special.
I had a great playing career. I got to play in college at Creighton University in two Final Four appearances and then had a short professional stint. Both were great and they were helped along the way by the Darlington School Soccer Academy. I played for Chad Liddle and, to be honest, Chad was probably tired of me by the time I graduated. I never played for Kevin Ray, but the relationship we built was unmatched. “Old gym, 6 a.m., you’re gonna be dead after this one.” A text like that from Kevin was not unusual. We’d bundle up and go in the Old Gym when it was 30 degrees outside, and he’d run me through a great training session. I never officially played for Kevin at Darlington, but whenever I was home, Kevin would make sure I was ready for preseason or anything else I needed to be prepared for. Kevin, Chad and I would be in the Old Gym for hours putting in work before a crucial part of the season. I’ll never be able to thank them enough for all the effort they put into me. They gave me a kick in the back side when I needed it and put an arm around me when I needed it. They both still do to this day. To say I’m proud to know them both is an understatement.
It's not just the connections with teammates or coaches, though. No, not in the slightest. My journey has taken me around. Rome, Ga., to Omaha, Neb., to Philadelphia, Penn., to Lexington, Ky., to Tallahassee, Fla., to my current home with my fiancé and our dog, Jacksonville, Fla. Everywhere I go, there’s a Darlington School Soccer Academy connection. People know the logo, or they’ve seen the big purple bus and they ask about my experiences, or if I know that one guy who played there a long time ago.
The connections I had from Darlington in Omaha, Philadelphia, and Lexington were great, and it was so good to have them nearby, but when I got to Florida, rekindling some relationships with connections made through the Academy helped me flourish. I’m now finishing my Ph.D. in Sport Psychology. Chad claims he’ll never call me Dr. Englis, but he’s got a soft spot for me, so I think I can make him say it at least once. Anyways, I got to Tallahassee to start my Ph.D. at Florida State University and didn’t know a soul in the city. Then, out of nowhere, I get a text from an 850 number, the Tallahassee area code. Having been in Tallahassee just a few days, I figured it was an automated university message. A university message it was not; Coach Chad had called ahead to tell some Darlington people I was moving to Florida. One of my favorite people from Darlington had just sent me a message. None other than former Associate Headmaster James Milford. He immediately invited me over to the Maclay School, where he is the current head of school and gave me a tour. He introduced me to everyone we walked by. He was as personable as ever. It was like seeing him walk around Darlington. Everyone knew him and he put a smile on everyone’s face. We sat and caught up for a few hours and as I was getting ready to leave, we talked about how traveling with the Darlington School Soccer Academy is what built our connection. Nine years after I walked across the stage at graduation, Mr. Milford and I picked up without missing a beat. Lifelong connections that helped me establish my professional sport psych career just days into moving to Florida.
I finished my coursework and began focusing more on my research and private practice. My fiancé and I moved to Jacksonville. Moving is tough, but Coach Chad and Kevin knew I was moving to Jacksonville and before I moved I got a text, this time from a 904 number. You guessed it. Jacksonville area code. “Hey Myles, this is Kila McCann from the Bolles School. When you’re settled, come over to campus!” And there it was again, that Darlington School Soccer Academy-built connection! Off I went over to the Bolles School to see Kila (who worked in admissions at Darlington and was a former head of house). After catching up, touring campus, and meeting a bunch of folks on campus, a great working relationship has been made at the Bolles School. I can tell you who I must thank for that -- Kila McCann and the relationship we built while I was at Darlington.
To the kids in the Academy now, your success at building connections is based on your desire to know, appreciate and help other people. Embrace and put energy into your relationships while at Darlington and make sure that you continue to work to stay connected long after you walk across the stage and graduate.
To the parents considering whether the Academy is the right place for your son or daughter, it most certainly is. The unique experiences, the friends, coaches, and mentors, and the intangible skills they develop are well worth it. Your child will not only develop as a player, but develop life skills in communication and relationship building that will prove dividends long after they leave Rome, Ga. The saying “it takes a village” is incredibly true at Darlington, for your teachers, coaches, and residential life are all vested in nurturing and developing young leaders for tomorrow and beyond.
I’ll never be able to put my time at the Darlington School Soccer Academy into words. What I can say, however, is that getting to where I am now in my career would have been a lot more difficult if it weren’t for those connections I made at the Academy. Coach Chad has since connected me to coaches from Jacksonville University, University of North Florida, Embry Riddle, Stetson, and Flagler for he thankfully knows a few college coaches. In a few months, I’ll have finished my Ph.D., so it’s only right I close this out with a quote by one of the godfathers of American psychology, William James: “We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface, but connected in the deep.”
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