On Oct. 21, 2022, the evening sky above Koskinen Stadium was clear, the floodlights beaming down on four seniors waiting for their names to be honored during the team’s senior night celebration. After a booming megaphone announcement, each player would step forward, embracing the coaching staff and then their families, a showing of appreciation for the Duke men’s soccer veterans’ hardwork and dedication to the program.
For then-senior midfielder Cam Kerr, however, his walk was different. Amidst the appreciation from the Blue Devil crowd, Cam’s hug with head coach John Kerr was extended: A showing of not just a coach’s love to his player, but a father’s love to his son. Going down the line, Cam found his brother, midfielder Drew Kerr, dressed in his match warmup attire, and met him with a dap.
Luckily for John, his senior midfielder returned to Duke for a graduate year, giving a father one more year of coaching his two sons together at the collegiate level.
The Kerr family is no stranger to Duke men’s soccer. John’s impact for the Blue Devil athletics department far surpasses his coaching stint — as a leading scorer for the team in his 1986 senior season, Kerr led Duke to its first-ever NCAA Championship in any sport. He returned to the program as head coach in spring 2007, taking over for the famed John Rennie.
A quick 16 years later and Kerr’s two sons, Cam and Drew, are both impact players for his Blue Devil squad.
Make no mistake about it, the Kerr family presence is hardly a coincidence, but rather a demonstration of a family’s true passion for the game of soccer.
'A hectic time'
John and Tracy Kerr turned into parents on July 23, 2001 in Boston when their son Cam and daughter Alex entered the world. For two NCAA Division I soccer head-coach parents — John at Harvard and Tracy at Providence College — tending to their children was no easy task. Especially right before the collegiate season began.
“The twins were born right before preseason started for Providence College,” John told The Chronicle. “That was a hectic time, but a time that we loved.”
Prior to John and Tracy’s coaching careers, they were each elite players, John enjoying a professional stint overseas in Europe before returning to the United States and Tracy playing at Virginia.
On Dec. 16, 2004, John and Tracy welcomed another son, Drew, and quickly began to imagine the vision of a soccer dynasty in the Kerr family.
While Cam and Drew grew up, their passions followed those of their parents, whether John or Tracy wanted them to or not.
“It always was soccer,” Cam said. “Our parents both wanted us to explore other sports, so we ended up playing rec basketball and rec baseball. As soon as we hit middle school, we both were dialed in on soccer all the time.”
“We wanted them to play other sports to become better athletes,” John said. “Another goal of ours as parents was to have them explore their avenues, meet different people and have some fun doing something different.”
Luckily for John, his advice went unheeded, and the brothers developed one sole focus: soccer.
'A wonderful period in our lives'
As any younger brother does with his older sibling, Drew aspired to be like Cam. Though Cam did not see Drew as competition on the soccer pitch, Drew continuously fought to play with his older brother.
“Whenever [Cam] had friends over, they'd play basketball or pickup soccer, and I would always try to compete with him,” Drew said.
When backyard games turned into competitive youth matches, however, Cam and Drew began to turn their competition into chemistry.
“[Drew] actually did play with my team for a little bit, when I was 12 or 13,” Cam said. “He'd be a little boy, and he would come on as a sub in some of our games. Even though he was a foot shorter than everyone else, he would still play. I think that was the start of our chemistry together, playing as teammates.”
John and Tracy continued their coaching careers as Cam, Alex and Drew ascended the club ranks while taking on new positions of their own: youth soccer coaches. Tracy coached Alex’s club team while John took on the role of coaching both Cam and Drew’s teams.
“[On game days] we would all show up at the same venue together at 5 [a.m.] and leave at 8 [p.m.],” John said. “I loved it. My wife and I got to spend time with both of them and my daughter as well. It was a wonderful period in our lives and something I cherish forever. Being able to work with them and help them develop has been a real joy.”
The choice for John was an obvious one — obsessed with the game for his entire life, he strived to provide the same opportunities for his children. Still, he couldn’t have expected the impact this would have on his collegiate coaching career.
“A lot of the guys on both their teams, in some ways hoped, but probably weren't going to be Division I collegiate players, but they loved playing soccer,” John said. “I wanted to provide for them that joy of the game and being able to go out there and have the best time with your buddies.”
For Drew, the experience was invaluable for his development as a player.
“My team would be the first to be coached, and then I would go and train with [Cam] right after,” Drew said. “I would be doing double trainings.”
Under John’s direction, Cam and Drew’s dreams of becoming Division I soccer players were starting to turn to reality. But one significant decision still remained.
In 2007, Cam was six years old, and Drew was getting ready to turn three. For the boys, though very young, John’s decision to return to his alma mater and take on the role as men’s soccer head coach had notable implications.
Most significantly for the brothers was their new presence around the Blue Devil program. Attending games and trying to keep up with the collegiate players, all Cam and Drew knew was Duke, and that showed as their college recruiting processes picked up steam.
“Growing up, we always kind of had in the back of our minds that we wanted to play collegiate, be Duke soccer players,” Cam said. “It was pretty much always Duke. [John] actually wanted me to explore other options to make sure I felt that I knew I was making the right choice.”
“We had a gun to your head,” John joked.
Jokes aside, John strived to give his children the freedom to find their best fit as a student-athlete. While Alex turned to Vanderbilt for women’s collegiate soccer, both brothers opted to join John as Blue Devils.
“They both decided one day, ‘I want to commit now, can I commit now?’” John said. “That was a fun day for all of us involved.”
'Your coach, not your dad'
Cam and Drew’s transition into the Duke soccer program was not always an easy one. In their respective freshman years, Cam did not see the field and Drew played in just 10 of 19 matches. However, as their careers have progressed, both have seen upticks in their contributions on the pitch.
Deserved or not, there will always be a natural stigma regarding the coach’s son which John, Cam and Drew all recognize.
“When I came in, I had to prove to the team that I was a player first, a lot of the guys didn't know what to expect of the coach's kid coming in,” Cam said. “On and off the field, I had to prove to everyone that I was a member of the team.”
“There's always that father part in you that wants to treat him like your son,” John said. “At the same time, we've had a lot of discussions with both of them regarding the situation with the team, and that when we're conducting business, I'm your coach, not your dad.”
While challenging at times, Cam has appreciated the effect of having his father as his head coach.
“Playing under my dad, I had a sense of freedom where I knew that he wasn't going to judge me if I made mistakes as long as I was working hard to keep improving,” Cam said. “Even at the college level, if I was playing for a different coach, I'd be a lot more tense in my development.”
'A little bit different'
Though Cam’s senior night was just over a year ago, his graduate year gave him one last season with his brother. For Drew, his brother’s presence made all the difference as he strove to be an impactful member of this Blue Devil squad.
“[Cam] really made it easy for me to come into this program,” Drew said. “He really just took me under his wing. Being a coach's son can be a difficult time, so he really just helped guide me through my freshman fall.”
With Cam on his way out, Drew will be the sole son on John’s roster next year. As Drew continues to increase his role with the team, he will be challenged to do it alone, without his older brother just steps away.
“It's going to be a little bit different now. I'm not going to have someone to fall back to,” Drew said. “I’m still excited for the next two years and [to] see what I can do.”
In two short years, Drew will hear his name blare on the loudspeaker for his own senior night at Koskinen Stadium. The family will line up for Drew’s senior photo. Cam will stand next to his little brother as a fan while John will stand as his coach, knowing that his time playing the joint role of coach and father for his sons will officially be over.
But for now, the three Kerr men can relish what they have. This special time in Duke soccer history will surely leave a lasting message: Blue Devils are family.
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