When Duke takes the field at Kentucky Sept. 21, it will be its first match in 320 days, an extended period of time that is sure to leave the Blue Devils a bit rusty to begin the fall.
Doing anything sports-related during a pandemic isn’t easy, but having one of the best recruiting classes in the country certainly eases the burden. Duke welcomes the No. 3 class in the nation this fall according to Top Drawer Soccer. The 11-member group is the program's largest incoming class since 2014, headlined by none other than Peter Stroud.
“[Stroud] is a very good player. He’s a great kid as well. Great attitude, loves the game,” head coach John Kerr said. “He’s a really hard working guy that wants to work for the team and he’s going to be a very big part of our plans in the middle of the midfield this year.”
Stroud’s resume is quite impressive. The Chester, N.J., native ranked No. 15 on IMG Academy’s Top 150 incoming recruits and has made appearances for the New York Red Bulls Academy, the U.S. U15 and U17 National Teams and most recently West Ham United’s U18 and U23 teams.
“It was really good just to branch out and play against some of the best players from other countries," Stroud said. "I think it’s always good when you can challenge yourself, especially with players that are better than you, in difficult environments as well."
It was unlikely that a player of Stroud's caliber would play in college at all and not just go straight to the pros. But Stroud made the difficult decision of taking the collegiate route, a decision influenced by his family. He has three older brothers, all of whom played for or are playing soccer at various universities.
To the Stroud family, college soccer is about more than the game itself—it’s about playing to the true definition of “student-athlete” and getting the education and experience of this level.
"I have three older brothers that all went through the college process, and I saw how beneficial it was to them both academically and as a person," Stroud said. "I think just seeing my brothers and the amount of fun they had in school, how much they benefited from it, also played a massive role [in my decision]."
His oldest brother, Jared, currently plays for the New York Red Bulls and played for Colgate until 2017 while Will currently plays for Colgate and Dylan takes the field for Washington and Lee. The game of soccer is clearly embedded in Peter's DNA.
Of course, there’s much more to this class than Stroud. Midfielder Nick Pariano, goalkeeper JT Harms, midfielder Antino Lopez and defenseman Amir Daley are all top-100 recruits (No. 48, 51, 65 and 93, respectively) and forward Miguel Ramirez finds himself just outside at No. 123.
The freshmen come from a diverse range of playing backgrounds and cities across the country. They have made numerous appearances on MLS U18 squads and U.S. national teams, which provides crucial experience needed to take their game to the next level. Although the hype may surround Stroud, the other 10 players are not far behind.
In a strong mix of humbleness and leadership, Stroud described what it’s like getting together with such a large group of talent.
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“I think obviously, when you combine a lot of good players, a lot of the good players usually have egos. But I think as a group, we’ve all done pretty well meshing. I think it’s a really good group of kids,” Stroud said. “They all want to be the best player, which creates a really good environment.”
Kerr provided a similar sentiment.
“From my lens, they are working out great," Kerr said. "And talking to the leadership group...they really enjoy them. They’ve brought the energy and character and personality to the team."
Even in this wild season with so much unpredictability, there is one thing that is certain: there's a lot to look forward to from this freshman class in the years to come.