After dealing with a string of injuries from a lower back fracture to needing surgery on his wrist, 15-year-old New Hyde Park resident Billy Stevens has continued to claw his way back to his starting position on the Red Bulls U-16 Academy soccer team and perhaps further.
Stevens, a sophomore at New Hyde Park Memorial High School, also plays for the varsity team, but soccer wasn’t always something that came naturally to him.
“I started soccer at around the age of four, and I hated the sport,” Stevens said. “I couldn’t stand it and wanted to quit, but my parents wanted me to stick with the commitment I made to my team.”
Stevens is now trying to secure a spot on the U.S. Soccer Federation’s national U-17 team, which ultimately can lead to playing in the World Cup. The U-17 team consists of some of the best youth players in the nation who travel the world together playing soccer against teams from Austria, Germany and across the globe, Stevens said.
The Soccer Federation is a foundation for professional soccer, and scouts will come to the games and choose players to be on a certain team to participate in the World Cup, Stevens added.
The Red Bulls U-16 Academy team is a division of the Red Bulls professional soccer team, which is a national team that plays all over the country. The academy teams are divided by age, and are a training camp of sorts for future Red Bull players.
Stevens has had to balance a heavy workload in school and playing for both the Red Bulls U-16 Academy, and the New Hyde Park Gladiators.
“I continued to play throughout my childhood and really found a love and passion for the game,” Stevens said. “I remember I started to really love the sport when I started scoring a lot of goals in intramural. I am very thankful that my parents had made me stick out the tougher years and pushed me to never give up.”
Setbacks are common for Stevens, as he suffered a stress fracture in his lower back that put him out of practices for three months this season. He had to work his way back to becoming a starter for the Red Bulls.
Stevens faced another setback earlier this year with recent surgery to his wrist that has caused him to be inactive for most of New Hyde Park’s varsity soccer season.
He said the wrist injury was a big blow to him because being a part of the varsity team so important, partly because he gets to represent his school and partly because he has gotten the chance to play alongside his brother John, 17.
“My brother is a senior this year, so it’s the last time we get to play on a team together,” Stevens said. “It’s a bummer that we both end up being injured, he having broken his leg and me, my wrist. Being a player on the varsity team is just as important to me as being a player on the Red Bulls.”
Thanks to Stevens’ perseverance, he is currently playing a year ahead of his peers at the Red Bull Academy as well as being a member of the New Hyde Park Varsity Soccer team for the last three years, serving as their forward mid fielder. On the Red Bulls, he plays as the center-back; either right, central or left sided defense.
“The Red Bulls and the national team pay for the flights, hotels and gear,” said Stevens. “The training they provide is hard, but is some of the best.”
“Balancing the two teams can be hectic sometimes,” Stevens continued. “Usually I practice with the school team from 3:15 to 5:00. My dad and I will head out to New Jersey to practice with the Red Bulls around 6:30 either two or three times a week. The traveling can be hard sometimes, but it’s worth it. Playing for both teams is the best decision I’ve ever made.”
Stevens said juggling two soccer practices and a pile of schoolwork can be trying at times, but he works hard to maintain his grades. He studies and does his schoolwork during his traveling hours.
“A lot of the time I do my homework in the car on the way to and from New Jersey for practices, but I always study at home whenever I can too,” Stevens said. “Excelling in soccer is certainly something to work towards, but excelling in school is necessary.”
Respected by both his coaches and his peers, everyone who knows him speaks highly of him.
“Billy is a great kid and player. He really gives his all when he’s on the field for a game or in practice,” said New Hyde Park varsity soccer coach Jeff Kaiser. “He makes a great addition to the team and it’s a pleasure to coach him. I see a great future in store for him.”
All of his talent does not cause him to fall victim to a big ego, said fellow Gladiator teammate Dan Orlik.
“Billy is really cool,” said Orlik. “He doesn’t let anything go to his head. He plays just as hard for us as he does for the Red Bulls and that’s something that I respect.”
The Red Bulls stand at 3-0 while New Hyde Park stands at 2-5, with two ties and one game left in the season against Garden City.
When asked about his future Stevens said, “I’m hoping to be able to continue playing soccer and end up going professional. I just have to keep working hard and doing what I’m doing now. Nothing and no one will stop me.”