Last fall ended in heartbreaking fashion for former King Philip star Joe Kellett and the UMass Lowell men’s soccer team. The River Hawks hosted the University of Albany (N.Y.) in the America East championship game at Cushing Field. The game was scoreless into double overtime before Albany’s Andreas Assiotis scored in the 103rd minute to seal a second straight conference title for the Great Danes.
The next day, adding insult to injury, the River Hawks found out that they would not be an at-large selection to the NCAA tournament.
It was an abrupt conclusion to an otherwise successful season for Kellett, who started all 18 games and led UMass Lowell field players in minutes played. When the season ended, he took time to step back and consider his collegiate career, which included an America East All-Rookie Team selection as a freshman, and he decided to make the move an hour down the road to Chestnut Hill.
Kellett transferred to Boston College, joining the Eagles in the ultra-competitive ACC to play some of the top teams in the country every game.
“I want to play against the best of the best and challenge myself and my abilities,” Kellett said in a phone interview two days before BC played Notre Dame, its third straight game against a team ranked in the top 20 in the country. “I just took a step back and was looking at my future and what I wanted most and thinking about how BC is a great combination of academics and the ACC.”
He added, “[Transferring] was one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever made. I was there for a year and a half and you make unbelievable friends. The training staff, the help of everyone around, it’s hard to leave everybody and leave everything behind.”
After electing to make the switch, Kellett completed the transfer during the spring semester, which has allowed him time to get acclimated to his new school, his new teammates, and a new style of play. Over the summer he played with several of the Eagles on the Boston Bolts in the USL League 2 (formerly the PDL).
The newly-formed chemistry with his strikers continued into the preseason and his solid play took some of the pressure off Kellett ahead of the new season and earned him a spot in the BC starting lineup.
“You have the support from your coaches because they want you to play well and, for me, I was lucky enough that I was able to come in and play well during preseason,” he explained.
He has lined up in central midfield in each of BC’s first eight games and has added versatility in the center of the pitch, providing defensive cover when needed but also adding a box-to-box presence when it is called for. That versatility was added to Kellett’s game during his high school career, playing for head coaches Kip Lewis and Nick Gale who not only had different styles of play but also put Kellett into different positions from forward to center back.
“You have to be willing to play different positions even if you don’t want to and those guys taught me amazing things that have translated to me playing well in college,” said Kellett. “If I was at center back, how I would want a center-mid to open space for me or to get on the ball. It’s good to see what other players in your position do and you’ve got to learn from that.”
Kellett mentions “trusting the process” several times during the conversation. He insists that the experience of playing different positions, different styles, for different coaches, has prepared him for the challenge of facing nationally-ranked teams almost every game.
“We want to play, but we also want to score as many goals as possible,” said Kellett, “and it was good adapting my playing style to that and I get to grow as a player and hopefully after school that will help me because I’m playing forward more and I’m learning more about my abilities.”
Soccer has always been a part of Kellett’s life. He said that his first word was “ball” and that an early age his parents decided that he wouldn’t play football. While he also played baseball and lacrosse growing up, it was soccer that stuck with him. When he was asked to describe what it was about soccer that he liked best, Kellett struggled to come up with an answer. It just became an integral part of his life.
Playing for a strong club team, NEFC, Kellett drew early attention from college coaches. He explained that just about every player on his club team ended up on a college team (at various levels) and recruiting started as he entered high school.
“I’m happy that I’m out of that process because it’s definitely stressful but looking back it was a cool experience to see which teams want you,” he said.
Unlike players in the new full-year academy system, such as the New England Revolution setup or the Boston Bolts academy team, Kellett was able to play for the Warriors and helped KP reach the postseason all four years. Club play was a showcase for his talents and a chance to play against top level competition, but Kellett is grateful he had the chance to represent his school too.
“You almost have more pride playing for high school than club, and that translates to college,” he explained. In public school, you’ve grown up in that district for so long that you want to beat the Franklins, the Foxboros, Oliver Ames, but at club you just want to learn and be the best player you can be.
“In high school you really have to fight, and it’s the same thing in college where you fight for the badge on your chest. It’s a great experience playing in high school.”
Kellett used to drive up to Newton on Friday nights during his high school career and watch BC soccer. Now he gets to line up for the Eagles to take on the best of the ACC. He is more comfortable with the speed of the game, the pressing, the physicality, and now he wants to complete the quest of getting into the NCAAs.
“Last year was tough,” he said. “I mean, double overtime in the conference final. If we win that game, then we would’ve gotten in and then being one of three teams out was just the most heartbreaking thing that could’ve happened. Thinking about that just gives you more motivation for try to get in.”
When asked about the chances for this Eagles team to make the next step, Kellett replied, “We have unbelievable heart on this team. There’s no question that everyone wants that and is willing to give everything they have for that. There’s nothing better as a player than standing next to 11 guys that are willing to do whatever it takes to win a game.”
Boston College pulled its record back to .500 on the season (3-3-3) with a win against No. 17 North Carolina State on Friday night. Kellett went the full 90 minutes for the Eagles, in their fourth straight game against a team ranked in the top 20.