For the past four years, James Belshaw has been the unshakeable core of Duke men’s soccer. He has been a rock, a constant source of stability and consistency that has laid the foundation for the program’s success. Now, after 77 starts in goal for the Blue Devils, it is time for Belshaw to graduate and pursue his dream of playing professional soccer.
The senior from Nottingham, England will complete his credits at the conclusion of the Fall semester, and while his teammates and friends return to campus in January, Belshaw will instead begin the process of turning his lustrous college career into a full-time job.
“I’m excited to get things going with my pro career, but I’m going to miss this place,” Belshaw said. “It’s a special place to be… It’s going to be a weird spring hearing stories of people being at Duke and me being away. But the best thing for my career is to finish up in December and take it from there.”
The MLS Superdraft will take place Jan. 17, 2013 in Indianapolis, but first Belshaw will participate in several MLS team-led training camps and then the MLS combine. If all goes according to plan, Belshaw hopes to hear his name called during the draft, signaling the start of a professional career in the United States.
“Playing in the MLS works for me having come over here for college,” Belshaw said. “I think the first couple of years I was over here, I was adamant about going home and playing in England. But after the way my college career has panned out, I’ve almost built a better reputation here with MLS coaches.”
During his four-year career, Belshaw established himself as the premier goalkeeper in the ACC and one of the top in the country. The past two seasons he was an All-ACC first-team selection and was selected to the All-ACC second team following his sophomore season. In the past three years, Belshaw only missed one start in goal for the Blue Devils.
Belshaw continued to develop and polish his game each season during his career at Duke. Even though his senior campaign was disappointing from a team perspective, as the Blue Devils failed to merit a NCAA Tournament bid, Belshaw posted career highs in shutouts, notching eight, and save percentage at .840. He also allowed a career-low 12 goals this season.
“He’s an overall great goalkeeper,” head coach John Kerr said. “James is very strong in shot blocking, good in the air, he’s got great feet and he’s a great distributor and communicator… At the pro level, he’s going to give everything he has and he’ll be a good citizen and give back to the community. He appreciates the lessons he learned on the field here, as well as off the field.”
Belshaw’s contributions to Duke cannot be limited to his statistics and on-field performance. Kerr said he would miss Belshaw’s personality the most, citing that he carried himself with a level of professionalism and maturity that is not characteristic of most college athletes.
Duke matches the past four years were accompanied by the sound of Belshaw’s steady and astonishingly loud voice booming over the field as he directed his teammates and offered relentless encouragement. He credits his leadership to his experience as a freshman, when his new Duke teammates helped him feel comfortable after leaving his family, friends and home in England.
“I know how hard it is,” Belshaw said. “A lot of [freshmen] are coming away from family for the first time, and I help them make that transition. Hopefully, they can take away some of the advice that I’ve given them and the support. I’d like to see some success from the team next year and I’d like to think I played a small part in helping build that.”
Belshaw’s impact on the program will be felt for years to come, but new challenges await. He must adjust to the faster pace of the professional game. He will have to make a new life for himself in a new city. And for the time being, he will have to deal with the complete uncertainty his future holds.
While he hopes to play in the MLS, Belshaw is keeping all options open in England and other European leagues. In fact, while he is home for Christmas, Belshaw will try out to represent Great Britain in the World University Games in Russia.
“I think he’s going to be an all-around contributor to whatever environment he decides to be in,” Kerr said. “He’s got a long career ahead of him. I’m thrilled for the young man and he’s been a great impact on our program. He will be sorely missed.”
Despite the netminder’s intensity on the field, Belshaw understands that when it comes to launching a professional soccer career, beggars can’t be choosers.
“As long as I’m playing soccer, I’m happy,” Belshaw said. “Whether that’s here or England or wherever, as long as I’m kicking a ball around and doing what I love doing everyday, then nothing can beat that.”