Search Shop
Aug 20, 2023

An Unexpected Journey

By: Andrew Cameron

The Clemson men’s soccer team was slated to face off against the NC State Wolfpack in the final regular season home game, dubbed Senior Night, of the 2022 season. Coming off of two back-to-back ACC losses to Virginia and Louisville, the Tigers were in desperate need of a firm win. Even more importantly, the Tigers were seeking to clinch a home seed in the first round of the upcoming ACC Tournament, a prize secured by winning the match by three or more goals.

Midway through the first half, Tiger defender Hamady Diop placed a well struck penalty kick into the back of the Wolfpack net, notching the first tally of the match. As the final minutes of the first half wound down, it looked like the Tigers would lead by a goal going into the break. With four minutes left in the half, the Tiger offense mounted a powerful attack deep into the right side of the Wolfpack defense, where freshman Marco Garcia served a deft through-ball to fellow freshman Nathan Richmond. Richmond took the ball further into the eighteen-yard box, feeding a perfect cross to freshman Isaiah Easley, who found the back of the net with a precise volley. Easley’s goal marked his second as a Tiger and his second goal in as many games.

This tri-freshman connection gave the Tigers unstoppable momentum going into the second half, where they ended up scoring a third goal later in the match, obtaining the coveted ACC Tournament first round home seed.
While Isaiah Easley’s 2022 freshman season proves he is a blossoming Tiger star, he was not always as fond of soccer as he is now. Growing up in Hawaii, he recalls being far more interested in surfing than soccer.

“Growing up, I surfed a lot with my older brother. That was our main sport and I never really touched soccer until I was 12 or 13 years old. After that, I started getting into soccer with my older brother and really kind of started because he did. We began playing and I realized I was actually pretty good.”

Taking that interest of soccer with him to high school, Easley began envisioning playing at the next level as a college athlete.

“Around my junior year of high school is when I really started taking soccer seriously and realizing I wanted to play at the next level in college. My senior year is when COVID happened so no college scouts could really see me. I had an option for a smaller DI school in Colorado and that’s when I realized I could probably play at that level.”

Deciding not to take the offer, Easley instead decided to spend a year further developing his skills to get a shot at a better offer. He traveled to Valencia, Spain to participate in the ETURE gap-year program, a program designed to develop potential NCAA players. Since its beginnings in 2017, the ETURE gap-year program has seen over 100 players, with over 65 of those players going on to play at NCAA level schools across the United States. Their concept is centered around providing not just accelerated soccer development, but also opportunities to grow in
maturity and competitive experience, to players post high school graduation. It is now a highly scouted program that has succeeded in giving players a shot at the next level.

Easley regards his decision to take a gap year and spend the 2021-2022 season at ETURE to be one of the best decisions of his life and is extremely grateful for the opportunity and relationships he built there. Though moving practically halfway across the globe from Hawaii, he found the experience enjoyable and growing.

“I feel like most people would get homesick being that far from home and in a new country, but I really enjoyed it. Just being by myself on my own and in a new country was a really growing experience. It helped because I was surrounded by a bunch of other Americans, so I was able to form some bonds there.”

He also notes how the soccer culture is unique in Europe and specifically in Spain, stating that it is more technical and oriented towards ball movement.

“The soccer over in Europe and Spain is so different and really just a lot more technical. They move the ball so well and spending that year over there really helped with developing those skills.”

Although Easley confesses he had never heard of Clemson before his time in Spain, it quickly came to his attention as he began developing a connection with ETURE director and cofounder, Ximo Miralles. Miralles was Clemson’s starting goalkeeper during the 2016 and 2017 seasons and returned to Spain following his time at Clemson.

“I started playing well in Spain and [Miralles] got in touch with Clemson. They ended up coming out to watch me play and I guess they liked what they saw.”

Following a visit from Tiger Head Coach Mike Noonan and a subsequent offer, Easley’s desire to continue his soccer career in the hills of South Carolina kept growing. Despite receiving offers from a few other schools, Easley knew that Clemson was what he was looking for in a college.

“I had a few options coming out of ETURE, but I was really just set on Clemson. My main goal is to play beyond college and Clemson is the perfect place for that. They give so many players that opportunity.”

So far, Easley has thoroughly enjoyed his time as a Tiger and is confident that he made the right decision in attending Clemson. His playing time increased as the 2022 season went on until he became a regular substitution off the bench.

“I’ve been very grateful for the playing time I got last season. It felt like all of the work I had put in during my time at ETURE and beginning at Clemson was paying off and it was cool to see that progress. I’m excited to see what this upcoming year has in store.”

Easley logged two goals, one assist and a total of 229 minutes over thirteen games played last season. Looking forward to this season, he aims to substantially increase those numbers and states he has never felt more prepared or confident as a soccer player.

“Going into this season is the most confident and prepared I’ve ever felt. All of the fitness and work we’ve been putting in has led me to feel super fit and ready. I feel that way about life in general now too. Just very happy and in a good spot.”

The Tiger men officially begin their 2023 soccer season on August 24 with a home match against UCF. They look to extend their NCAA Tournament appearance streak, aided by Easley and other returning young talent.