Not many 17-year-old kids can say they’ve played against an English Premier League team.
Cole Gulledge can.
The St. James High School rising senior and member of the S.C. Battery U18 Development Academy team recently was asked by Charleston Battery coach Dusty Haddock to play in a friendly match against West Bromwich Albion FC of the English Premier League.
Gulledge was shocked when he received the call and was just thankful for the opportunity to play for the Battery, a member of the United Soccer League, U.S. soccer’s third-highest rung.
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“[Haddock] actually called me within 24 hours of the match and at first I didn’t quite believe it,” said Gulledge, who has also spent time with the National Premier Soccer League’s Myrtle Beach Mutiny this summer. “Then I kind of understood the situation; they needed a few players because they had a backpack match. I was just completely overjoyed.”
And while just dressing for the Battery was a thrill for Gulledge, he subbed in during the match and got to play in the final 25 minutes of the 2-1 loss July 18.
“It was the greatest opportunity of my life so far. Just playing in front of close to 5,000 fans was spectacular; it’s something I’ll always remember,” Gulledge said.
Gulledge said playing with and against players who were at a higher level than him was a nice learning experience, too.
“Just playing at that level was really kind of a shock to me. It made me understand what’s required to get to the next level,” Gulledge said. “The competition, which is obviously professional soccer – and even higher would be the English Premier League – but it’s just understanding the size and the sheer physicality and the speed of play was just outstanding. It was such a great opportunity to play with those guys and it made me realize how truly good they are.”
Said Mutiny coach Tom Morris: “That opportunity – whether you’re 17 years old or 35 years old – is incredible. There’s probably not a single person in this whole facility right now that’s had the opportunity to do that – play against a Premier League soccer team. I just hope he uses it to kind of fuel his career and fuel his enthusiasm for the game.”
Gulledge said if the Battery come knocking again, he’ll gladly rejoin them.
“Being part of the development academy, I am legally allowed to play at the professional level without losing my college eligibility,” Gulledge said. “So, yeah, if the opportunity arises I’m sure I could play with the Battery again in the near future.”
Playing for the Battery’s U18 development academy has made Gulledge ineligible to play high school soccer. While he will be going to school at St. James, Gulledge will again play for the academy his senior year.
“I definitely feel like it’s helped me become a way better soccer player [than if I played in high school],” Gulledge said.
While in Myrtle Beach, Gulledge struggled to get into the Mutiny’s lineup, partially he said because of other summer obligations and the team’s depth. “It was a hard time to get in the squad’s lineup like the other guys could but it was still a great experience,” he said.
While Morris didn’t see Gulledge in action much, he said the 17-year-old left an impression.
“Cole has a very bright future ahead of him,” he said. “I only got the chance to work with Cole this summer but he’s definitely got a very bright future. Unfortunately for him, he didn’t get a chance to play because of how deep our group was. But he’s very technical, very talented and he understands his role. He’s about six feet tall now and he’s going to fill out and grow into his body. Once he does, he can really deal with that physical side of the game.”
Morris said he’d like to see Gulledge in a Mutiny uniform again.
“I hope as the future goes on he physically understands the game a little bit more and keeps working really hard so that he gets a chance to play for the Mutiny and play at a good level in college,” Morris said. “The biggest thing for him is that he’s got talent, he’s going to have physique. It’s just now how hard he’s willing to work to make it happen. He’s got the right mindset to do that and I really hope he takes all of his attributes and has a really good career.”
Former Waccamaw high school standout Noah Gulley – a longtime friend of Gulledge and Mutiny player – said the youngster showed maturity and proved he has what it takes to prosper at a high level.
“I’ve known Cole since we were little kids trick-or-treating together. But he’s a great kid and I know he’s worked and played at all kinds of levels,” Gulley said. “He’s the youngest guy out here but you can’t tell and he has a really, really bright future. He puts in the work and plays at a really high level. He’s going to go far.”
Gulledge said he wants to play college soccer and is starting to zero in on his main targets.
“I have a few places in mind. The list started out actually pretty long but I’ve got it narrowed down to where I want to go,” Gulledge said. “It’s either College of Charleston, Wofford [or] Davidson; those are the three schools I’m really trying to play at.”
Gulledge said he’s proud to be a part Grand Strand soccer as it flourishes.
“The improvement has been absolutely incredible, especially in the last 10 years,” Gulledge said. “You see Coast FA and it’s continuing to grow and as it grows, it improves the high school soccer level, which has gone an extremely long way as you can tell from the success St. James and Myrtle Beach had in the past year alone. A majority of those guys are part of Coast FA and as it continues to grow and the passion for the game continues to grow, it’s just going to keep on going and it’s a great thing to see, honestly.”
And Gulledge said he can see himself being a part of it all for a while longer.
“Being a local guy and high-level player, I can definitely see myself playing for the Mutiny in the next few years or at least throughout my college years,” he said.
Contact MAX McKINNON at 626-0302 or on Twitter @mmckinnonTSN.