Even after an incredible high school soccer career at Saint Ignatius High School, Theo Kudlo found himself wondering if he wanted to play the sport in college.
Then, The Master's University came calling.
A member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), The Master's University is located in Santa Clarita, California. With an enrollment of 1,200 students, the school is a non-denominational, conservative Christian liberal arts university.
The Mustangs discovered Kudlo though David Giesbrecht, an Oberlin native and friend of Kudlo's who is currently a freshman at The Master's University. In December, the Mustangs flew Kudlo out for a visit to their campus in Southern California, about 30 miles north of Los Angeles.
The Mustangs hosted Kudlo for a 3-day workout. The session was focused on fitness, with plenty of drills and playing soccer, just like at Saint Ignatius. During the trip, Kudlo toured the campus and found out more about the university.
A week after returning home, Kudlo received a text from the Mustangs' coach with a full scholarship offer.
"I couldn't turn down that offer," Kudlo said. "A chance to go to school in California and play soccer? I can't pass that up."
Indeed, a chance to attend college for free is an incredible opportunity for Kudlo. Especially when you consider the great education he'll receive, as he'll be pursuing a degree in business management. The location sure doesn't hurt, either. Kudlo is just a 45-minute trip away from the beach, which will make lots of us here at Wildcat High jealous in the winter.
Another positive for him will be the lack of a commute. Kudlo currently drives about an hour each way from Wakeman, Ohio, which is about 40 miles west of Saint Ignatius. That's the definition of dedication.
Kudlo will be a great addition for the Mustangs' soccer program, as well. Over the past three seasons, Kudlo has been a shutdown defender. Head Coach Mike McLaughlin '85 often used the veteran to lock down the opponent's best player.
"Theo might have been our toughest defender on the team this year," McLaughlin said of Theo, who started 21 games. "One of the ways you can tell that is by how afraid his teammates are to face him in practice. Some kids shy away from confrontation, while others enjoy confrontation. Theo loves to get in to tackle. That's what made him a great defender. He was a ball winner. When he got the ball, there was an excitement about what he was going to with the ball. There was a little bit of unpredictability. He was difficult for other teams to deal with. He's fast and aggressive with the ball. He shut down some of the top players in the country."
Over his three seasons on varsity, Kudlo accrued 3,069 minutes of playing time, tallying 3 goals, 10 assists, and 47 fouls. Over 55 games played, 47 fouls is pretty low, especially for someone in Kudlo's role, tasked with shutting down elite players.
A trait not lost on McLaughlin is Kudlo's work ethic. Even amidst injuries, Kudlo fought every day to get better and remain on the pitch.
"I'm proud of how hard he worked. He battled through injuries every year. When you play the way he plays, it takes a toll on your body," McLaughlin said. "But he has an attitude that he's always ready to go. He was one of the fan favorites for sure. He was a critical piece to our championship this year. We're going to miss him."
Along his Saint Ignatius soccer journey, Kudlo learned plenty of lessons.
"The amount of teamwork you put into it has a big play into the outcome. If you're not a team that is bonded together, you may not go as far as you think you will. This year, we came together as a team. We just wanted to get it done, and we did."
Saint Ignatius also taught Kudlo how to adjust to a different environment.
For any freshman, adjusting to the high-achieving culture of Wildcat High can appear daunting. At first, it looked extra challenging for Kudlo. During grade school, Kudlo was homeschooled. But even still, Kudlo adjusted and developed into an outstanding student.
"Saint Ignatius helped me communicate and have no problem transitioning into a new place," Kudlo said. "Coming from homeschooling for grade school to Saint Ignatius for high school was very different."
If you were to ask Theo's teachers or coaches about him, you would receive a similar response each time. Theo is just an exceptional young man.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a young man with a smile as wide and an attitude as postitive as Kudlo's.
"A wonderful human being. He has a smile that can light up any room," McLaughlin said. "There is an ease to his personality that connects well with everybody and anybody. Everybody loves Theo."
If you want further proof of Kudlo's personality, watch his opponents after games.
On more than one occasion this year, opponents approached Theo after games, wanting to take a selfie with the affable Wildcat.
"After a few of the bigger games, some opponents came up after the game and wanted pictures with Theo," said McLaughlin. "That's pretty cool. Along with his ability, Theo is a wonderful young man with a fun personality. He brought a lot of life to this team."
Without a doubt, we'll miss having Theo around the pitch and the school.
But before he takes his talents and smiles off to California, Kudlo has some thank you's for those who have made his journey possible.
"I want to thank Coach Mike and all of the other coaches at Saint Ignatius," said Kudlo. "I also want to thank my parents, as well as all of the other people in my life, such as my brothers and sisters. I've had a lot of big influences in my life who have helped to get to where I am today and becoming the man I am."