Not 'Straying' From The Goal

It’s typically not an easy decision, electing to leave an area you’ve known your entire life for a place three time zones away. But for four-star defender Miles Stray, a native of Point Reyes, Calif., a small town across the San Francisco Bay, choosing to head east was a borderline no-brainer.

It’s typically not an easy decision, electing to leave an area you’ve known your entire life for a place three time zones away. But for four-star defender Miles Stray, a native of Point Reyes, Calif., a small town across the San Francisco Bay, choosing to head east was a borderline no-brainer. Despite holding offers from in-state programs like UCLA and California, the class of 2016 stalwart couldn’t say no to Maryland and head coach Sasho Cirovski.

“A big part of me coming to the East Coast was, one, I have a lot of family there and, two, I’ve been on the West Coast my whole life playing soccer and I wanted to see what kind of contributions I could have on the East Coast. I wanted to see if I could hang with the players out East,” said Stray, who committed to the Terps in February 2015. “I checked out a lot of schools, but Coach Sasho and Coach Brian [Rowland], they were great on my visit in February, and I felt like I could trust them. Just seeing how they worked with the players and seeing the practice, I could tell there’s an opportunity there to play beyond the college level. There’s a chance to win championships at Maryland and get to the professional level, and that’s what I was looking for in a college. Plus the environment in College Park was just unbelievably amazing.”

Didn’t even matter that College Park, Md., is 3,000 miles from California. See, Stray explained, his father’s family resides in New Jersey, so the Strays typically trek to the Garden State at least once a year to visit. Plus his mother has work in New York, the Strays joining her in the Big Apple when she’s there for extended stays. No, he'd never been to Maryland before, but at least he's been exposed to right-coast living.

On top of that, Stray personally hasn’t really been home in more than three years now. Before his freshman year of high school, he and his parents decided there was a better opportunity to advance his career at Real Salt Lake Academy (Case Grande, Ariz.) instead of one of the California soccer schools. Thus, other than holidays and summer breaks, Stray’s spent much more time in the Arizona desert than on Cali’s beaches.

“I’m just kind of used to being away, whether it’s a couple hundred miles or a couple thousand. The distance honestly is not that big of a deal. I felt Maryland gave me the best experience, regardless how far away it is,” Stray said. “But the biggest difference and adjustment for me is going to be the weather. When I came for a visit there was a big snowstorm, and I was shocked by that. And all the coaches like Brian and Sasho kept asking me if weather was going to be a problem for me. But I kind of figured rain, snow, shine -- it wasn’t a big deal for me as long as I was playing soccer.”

Stray said Virginia, which was also in hot pursuit, finished second for his services. He actually visited Charlottesville, Va., during the same weekend as Maryland, but ultimately felt UMD represented a better fit.

“Once I visited Maryland, it was a done deal,” Stray said. “I was like, ‘OK, this is where I’m going to college. I love it here.’”

Stray’s journey from Point Reyes to College Park began almost by accident. He didn’t grow up in a soccer-centric family, nor was he introduced to the game by some gung-ho youth-league coach. Fact is, he happened upon it thanks to the whim of his mother.

Stray said his mom had to work long hours, and in the summer she couldn’t take care of four-year-old Miles during the day. So she signed him up for a local camp, figuring Stray could burn off his energy running around the soccer pitch.

That’s where Stray met his first coach, Eduardo Zarto, who remains an influence to this day.

“Everything kind of fell into place and the path was set after I met Coach Zarto. He kind of showed me the game, showed me how to train and was just a huge presence in my life,” Stray said. “He trained me growing up all the way until I left for the academy [in Arizona]. Now every time I go home I try to see him. We have a really close relationship. We still train together to this day.”

Initially, Stray said he didn’t take soccer all that seriously, preferring to “just fool around” like most elementary-aged kids. It wasn’t until he turned eight years old and joined a club team that he began to focus in on “the beautiful game.”

“I was actually really big into baseball too, but my coaches were like, ‘Miles, you have to make a decision here, you can’t do both,’” Stray said. “Well, baseball was kind of boring for me and I liked to run around, so I decided to go with soccer.”

With his mind made up, Stray began to establish his name. With the help of Zarto and his club team coach, Steven Sosa, he separated from his peers, his speed; physicality in the air; and his never-back-down mentality (you’ll never see this guy flop) catching more than a few eyes.

“In eighth grade it was getting to the point where I was getting pretty good,” Stray said. “So Coach [Sosa] took me and another player on a trip overseas to Holland and Spain, showing us the academies over there because that’s where he used to play professionally. He told us, ‘If you want to play at the next level this is what it’s going to be like.’ It opened my eyes to a world outside of club soccer. It’s like, ‘OK, I love this game, but you have to almost make it your job to get to the top levels.’”

After returning from Europe, Stray decided he needed to play at a level more competitive than a California club league. So he and his family began researching various soccer academies, although the closest one was three hours away.

The Strays weren’t about to spend six hours on the road every day, so they looked for a different option. That’s when Sosa recommended Real Salt Lake.

“It sounded like a great idea, so I went and visited Real and I fell in love with it. The guys and coaches around there, it’s like all soccer 24-7,” Stray said. “I made a great decision coming down here.”

Although freshman year was an adjustment period, especially as Stray acclimated himself to his new surroundings, he immediately impressed the staff. He recalls one day after practice a Real coach approached him and asked if he’d considered playing in college, which came as a shock.

“I was like, ‘That’s four years away. I haven’t really thought about it,’” Stray said. “And they were like, ‘I think you should, because college coaches are starting to contact us about you already.”

UCLA, Stanford, Cal and Louisville were the first to ante up during Stray’s sophomore season. Maryland, Virginia and others then came calling before his junior year, following Stray’s inclusion on the U-17 national team.

It was on said national team that Stray met future Terps Paul Bin and Diego Silva, setting the stage for the Californian’s matriculation to College Park.

But before Stray arrives at Maryland, he wants to continue establishing himself with the national team, which he’s been on for one-and-a-half years, and helping lead Real Salt Lake.

“I would say mostly I’m a dominant player in the air and good in one-on-one battles. Speed, that’s probably the best attribute to my game, though,” Stray said. “But I need to get better technically and being more aware on the field. You always have to work on the technical parts of your game because the margin of error is so small at the next level.”

Stray said he'd love to play professionally one day, perhaps in Holland where he visited several years ago with Sosa. Of course, he's seeking a College Cup at Maryland during his tenure in College Park too.

“I want to do my best to win a championship for however long I’m there,” Stray said. “But the goal has always been to play professionally, whether it takes one year in college or four. I know that Coach Sasho and Coach Brian are going to push me and have me ready, though, and I’m really excited to get out there.”

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