Footballer Erik Panzer will be speaking at Sport Tasman's US College Sports Scholarship Information Evening on Friday. Photo: Phillip Rollo.

Footballer thriving in US college system

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It’d be hard to convince Erik Panzer that anywhere other than the United States is the perfect pathway for a top athlete and someone wanting a top education.

When it comes to increasing his football skills on the pitch, and expanding his knowledge off it, Erik believes it’s USA all the way.

The 20 year-old is back in Nelson for a month after completing his second year at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut, where he studies psychology and plays centreback for their soccer team, the Bobcats.

He will be one of three guest speakers at Sport Tasman’s US College Sports Scholarship Information Evening this Friday, where students, parents and coaches can learn more about life as an athlete in the American college system.

Erik, who will be joined by middle distance runners Craig Lautenslager and Josie Wilcox on Friday, had achieved nearly everything he could as a teenager in New Zealand football. He was a regular for Nelson Suburbs in the Mainland Premier League, led Canterbury United to the ASB Youth League title, and made his ASB Premiership debut for Canterbury United.

But the US had always appealed to him as a place where he could extend his football career and get an education at the same time.

“My parents had always stressed that education was important and I always understood why. Injuries happen and even if you go pro at the age of 18 you can always get cut. So it was a very appealing option, the fact I had a US passport helped too,” the former Garin College student says.

After moving conferences, Quinnipiac had their best season ever in 2013/14, reaching the first round of the NCAA Championship. Erik was gifted an NCAA ring to remember the team’s efforts, but despite losing to tenth-ranked University of Connecticut, it was a moment he’s unlikely to forget. “It was a place no one in the school had ever gone; no one in the programme had ever gone. They sent up five busloads of supporters from school, we had a good 500 fans and there were 3500 people in the crowd,” he says, describing the biggest football game of his young career.

Erik says his Bobcats team played to their game plan perfectly but still couldn’t overturn their much-fancied opponents, losing 2-1. “We kept on fighting but we just couldn’t break it. That’s where the journey ended but it was our first time ever going into the national championship draw. For the school it was huge. It was a moment that all students live for.”

Erik says the entire season last year was a highlight for him, and he thrived in a back four that had some of the best defensive stats in the country. “We were number seven in the country for clean sheets and number 13 in the country for goals against, and those are things we can hang on to.”

Now back in Nelson for a few more weeks, where he is playing for Nelson Suburbs, Erik put his hand up to help speak with young Nelson athletes about his US scholarship and how they can follow a similar path. “People need help sometimes, they don’t know the process. I just felt there was an opportunity to inform others that have the potential and there are so many opportunities out there. We’re just giving an insight into the younger generation to hopefully help them on their way.”

Erik says each athlete has a different story, living in different cities, playing different sports, and gaining their scholarship through various ways. “It’s just something they can hear and want to pursue.”