We are really excited for our readers to get their hands (and eyes) on this interview! One of the top goalkeepers in all of college soccer took time out of his busy post-season to sit down and answer a few questions for us. UNC Charlotte standout goalkeeper Elliot Panicco gives us plenty of insight into what it takes to reach the top of the Division 1 college ranks and how he is preparing for the next phase of his career. Read all about it below!
What is your first goalkeeping memory that you can think of that really got you hooked on the position? What were some of the main reasons you decided to become a goalkeeper?
I had a lot of great memories as a kid growing up playing goalkeeper. I didn’t truly make the switch to keeper until I was about 11 or 12. Once I did make the switch to goalkeeping, I fell in love with it. The thing that I loved most that got me hooked was the fact that if I did my job I was able to help my team out by keeping the scoreline the same and keep my team in the game. The satisfaction of making a big save when no one expects you to is something that I love and is what got me hooked on goalkeeping.
How do you think the Development Academy helped you prepare for the next level in college?
The Development Academy was a big help in preparing me for college because it allowed me to play against some of the best players in the country and allowed for more training during the week. I was able to compete 4 or 5 times a week with some of the best competition and ultimately the same guys that I would be playing against in college so that was huge in preparing me for college. Another great thing was the fact that they have a great showcase system that allows you to be seen by college coaches all across the country which makes recruiting much easier for players and coaches.
Let's talk the recruiting process. You're a local (ish) guy; what made you choose UNC Charlotte over some of the other schools you were looking at?
I had several offers from schools along the east coast including a couple of ACC schools. What set Charlotte apart from the other schools was the coaching staff. At Charlotte, they made it clear to me that everyone in the locker room has the same opportunity as the guy next to them. No one comes in and automatically plays because of who they are or where they come from. Players have to earn their playing time and the coaches really emphasize training and developing players. They also showed me that they cared about my life outside of soccer and wanted me to mature as a man and wanted what was best for me. I loved that development was a big part of the culture at Charlotte because I knew I wanted to go to the next level and I also knew that at the age of 18 I wasn’t ready for that. Working hard and improving everyday was something that I felt like I could guarantee to give myself a chance at playing and looking back I am so glad I chose Charlotte. I don’t think I could have found a better place to spend the last 5 years of my life.
Why did you decide to graduate high school early and start your college experience in the spring? How do you think that helped your development at the early stages?
Graduating early was something that I didn’t really know about until a few of my Academy teammates told me about it and said they were doing it. Zhuvonte Wilson graduated early the year before I did and told me that it was really beneficial for him. A couple of my Academy teammates also decided they were graduating early and at that point I decided that getting into college and starting to train as soon as I could with that next level of players was only going to help me. Graduating early was massive for me as it gave me a semester to adjust to the speed of play and get my feet under me at school which made the first season in the fall less hectic. Training with the starter at the time, Austin Pack, was also a huge positive because I got to spend a year learning from him rather than just 4 months.
Was making the decision to redshirt a tough one? A lot of players come out of high school and want to play right away so how did you handle sitting on the sidelines for a year?
For me, redshirting was an easy thing to grasp because I knew walking in that locker room I was not going to be the best guy right away. Especially as a goalkeeper, redshirting is almost always a necessity especially at any top 25 program; of course there are always exceptions to that. I found redshirting to be very beneficial to me because it allowed me to just focus on myself and the things I needed to improve on. I got in the gym and put on muscle, worked on my footwork and didn’t have the pressure of performing every week to stop me from focusing on what I needed to improve on.
You've had an excellent college career both on and off the pitch. How do you manage the workload in the classroom while also putting in the work on the soccer field necessary to be one of the top goalkeepers in the country?
It is all about deciding what is most important to you. When people get to college, there is so much going on and there are almost infinite opportunities for things to do and people to meet. I just decided that for me, school and soccer were my focus and I had to sacrifice things that any other college student could do. That was tough early on especially in the dorms because there are so many distractions but I am glad to have lived with teammates who shared the same goals and aspirations as me which were to finish my degree and play professional soccer. I definitely grew more disciplined in college and had many long days of going to class and the training and then studying for hours in the evening but looking back I am so thankful I did that because it has set me up for life outside of college both on and off the field.
Being one of the top goalkeepers in the college game, you've had the opportunity to train with various professional clubs (MLS & USL). What have you taken away from these experiences and how have those training stints helped your performance throughout the past couple of seasons?
It has been very beneficial for myself to have trained with several pro clubs during my time at Charlotte. I think the first thing that I took away from the experience was the professionalism from the environments and how players at the next level conduct themselves and just go to work every day to improve. That was something that I took back to college and helped me immensely. The other thing that I took away from my experiences training with professional clubs was the increase in speed of play. Shots came faster, decisions were made quicker, and players were 3 or 4 steps ahead of the play, ready to make an impact on the game. Training at that pace really helped me improve myself and helped me get ahead in the college game.
Now that school is over and you can focus on the jump to the professional ranks, what has that process been like? How are you getting prepared for all of the combines and interviews coming your way?
The process has been a smooth one so far. At Charlotte, our head coach Kevin Langan wants us to train and live our lives as if we were professionals. He has really prepared me well for the up coming combines and interviews with clubs. To prepare for the combines I have been training at Charlotte with my goalkeeper coach Brian Edwards and working with Champions Sports Performance to help with my physical testing that I’ll be doing at the combines. I have been able to talk to my coaches and former teammates about preparing for interviews with clubs and I am thankful for that because I now have an idea of what the interviews will be like.
What are you most excited about in your first season as a professional? What do you hope to learn and what goals do you have for yourself?
I am most excited about getting to focus fully on soccer and play the game that I love for a living. That has been a life long dream of mine and I can’t believe the opportunity is right in front of me. I hope to learn how to balance life with soccer. I want to give it my all but I don’t want it to consume me. I know there is more to life than just soccer so I am excited to learn what it is like to play it for a living. My goals for my first season are to sign with an MLS team, make my professional debut, get my first shutout and play well enough to earn a second year contract.
Last question: Honest opinion (no bias allowed) better sports school, UNC Charlotte or UNC Wilmington?
This is a good question, I did some research and seeing that neither school has won an NCAA national championship in any sport, I would have to give the edge to Charlotte because as of 2019 our football team made their first FBS Bowl game, something the Seahawks have never done. Go Niners!