From the age of four, Philippe van der Lof (21) was busy with only one thing: playing soccer. He played in the youth academies of Willem II and RKC Waalwijk, until he had to leave the selection there at the age of eighteen. At the same time he failed his final high school exam. “I didn’t feel like playing football and living for the sport at all, and wanted to go partying”. A transfer to Saint Mary’s College in California changed the life of the Brabanter.
During his first season for the SMC Gaels, Philippe remained unbeaten for twenty games in a row and won the West Coast Conference with his team. “When we started the season, nobody cared about our team. During the championship game, about 4,000 fans and students were watching. The American winning mentality really does exist. ”
For Willem II, Philippe was a permanent member of the youth teams and played several matches for the promises team of the Tilburg premier league club. Yet it became clear to him that professional football is reserved for few players: “Of course you want to become a professional footballer, but is it also realistic? As a youth player you really feel that players like Matthijs de Ligt and Justin Kluivert stand out in terms of level ”.
When Van der Lof felt that his chances as a professional football player in the Netherlands were getting smaller, he decided to go on a skiing holiday: “In principle, I had to be in the Netherlands to train with the team. But yes, I dropped out of the selection and failed my VWO exam. I thought, let it all go. Now is the time to enjoy student life and play at a local club ”.
Once he started his new step in amateur football, Van der Lof missed competitive football and the will to win. “I soon found out that partying and drinking the beer wasn’t for me. I wanted a challenge in football ”. Shortly afterwards, Van der Lof came into contact with Slamstox, a company that helps talented athletes find sports scholarships at American universities. “I was already looking at America a bit myself, but Slamstox made it really concrete and I got the right information and guidance. I could also choose from several offers ”. Van der Lof decided to go on a full scholarship to study and play football for Saint Mary’s College, located just outside San Francisco, California. This scholarship has a value of more than $ 50,000 and covers its study costs, accommodation costs, beverage and insurances.
Van der Lof immediately ended up in a rollercoaster. A team with players from eleven different countries, professional facilities, maximum support and a full-time coaching staff consisting of four football trainers, a physiotherapist, a fitness coach, a dietician, a tutor and a media representative. “The university does everything it can to ensure that we perform well, but you have to work very hard for it. If you don’t pass the fitness tests at the beginning of the year, you can actually forget about the season ”, Van der Lof points out the culture in the team. “The coaches are strict, but they know how to motivate the team very well. We train three to four hours a day, follow a full-time university course and in the meantime make sure that we eat healthy, stay fit and finish our homework. If you work hard with twenty guests every day, you can achieve a lot. Only now do I really know what hard work is. ”
It soon became clear that the hard work paid off. Saint Mary’s remained unbeaten for twenty games in a row. Never before has a football team been so successful in the West Coast Conference. Saint Mary’s also managed to win 4-0 against University of the Pacific that year, where former PSV players and Slamstox players Wouter Verstraaten and Bob Groenendijk caused a furore. Saint Mary’s started the season that year as an underdog: “Our university and the students only had eyes for the basketball team, because they won a lot. I think we are now the most popular team in the university. Americans are really for winners ”
During his first season, Philippe and his team achieved a national ranking of # 4 in NCAA Division 1. He was the highest ranked Dutch football player in the American university competition, which consists of about 1700 teams. When asked whether he thinks the ranking is important, Philippe replies: “The ranking is nice, but it doesn’t really say that much. Maybe we got lucky. Ultimately, it is all about making progress as a team and it is important to note the important moments ”.
The best moment
It seems like a dream to be able to combine your studies with football in this way. “Sometimes I feel like I have ended up in a kind of rehab place where I can fully focus on my studies and my football career. If I have a day off and want to do something different, I will be in the middle of San Francisco within 45 minutes. ”
Philippe describes winning the West Coast Conference as the best moment so far. And that was not only due to winning the championship: “After the final whistle came the release of winning the conference: we did it! Suddenly I heard familiar voices from the audience, and I saw my mother and brother standing in the stands. They had arranged a surprise visit with the coaches, without my knowing. I ran into the stands and flew into their arms. And yes, there were some tears then. ”
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He does not yet know exactly what the future will bring for Philippe. “For the time being, I am in the right place here. I’m going to finish my studies and try to achieve even more success with the football team. ” But is there really never time for a party or something fun? “Haha, of course. If you’re an international athlete in college in America, that’s just part of the deal. The ladies already find you attractive by definition. Sometimes it may be too easy in that respect. ” laughs van der Lof with a wink.
Whether there is still a possibility to play football professionally, the down-to-earth Dutchman leaves in the middle for now: “If there is an opportunity in the MLS, I will of course look at it very seriously. Working life in America also appeals to me. There are so many opportunities here in Silicon Valley. A job at Facebook or Google, for example, that would also suit me. ”