Stage is set for Proctor to become a star
This story appeared in the Los Angeles edition of the December ESPN RISE Magazine.
When Clint Greenwood watches Courtney Proctor on the soccer field, he can see the past and the future.
Proctor's speed, unselfishness and knack for scoring take him back to the mid-1990s, when he was coaching a different teenage superstar.
"He thinks I'm a replica of Landon Donovan," Proctor says. "He's trying to make me into a female Landon Donovan."
And when Proctor blows past a defender and rifles a shot past a helpless goalie, Greenwood sees the next superstar of women's soccer.
"She could be one of the best forwards of all time, even close to Mia Hamm," says Greenwood, who coached Proctor with the Santa Clarita United Blazers and is now her personal instructor.
When Greenwood makes pronouncements like that, it's wise to pay attention. He's not a starry-eyed coach comparing his current standout to the biggest name he can think of. He played professionally in the U.S. and Europe and has coached numerous Division I and pro talents -- including Donovan.
Of course, Proctor's present isn't too bad either. The home-schooled 5-foot-8 prodigy is one of America's great young soccer talents. A junior striker, the 16-year-old Proctor was the youngest player on the U-17 Women's National Team this past year and committed to national powerhouse UCLA in the spring.
Ever since she started kicking a soccer ball, Proctor has been advanced. In youth leagues, she would score so easily and so often that her father, who doubled as her coach at times, would force her to set up teammates for goals. This allowed Proctor to develop a well-rounded game while letting her friends get in on the action.
With that kind of success, it's no wonder Proctor loved the game from the outset.
"She used to sleep in her uniform, socks and shin guards the night before a game," says Proctor's mother, Sue.
Eventually, Proctor shed that habit, but the goal scoring was there to stay. It didn't take long for her to start moving up. At age 9, she joined the Santa Clarita United club program, playing on the U-12 team.
For an elite talent like Proctor, being home-schooled certainly has its advantages. To start with, she gets to sleep later than her peers, often not waking up until 9 a.m. Most important, her schedule allows workouts to be scheduled around class time.
"I can practice in the morning before class if I have to," Proctor says. "Having that flexibility has been a big factor in me being able to train and improve."
Most days, though, Proctor has class until 1 or 2 in the afternoon. From there, it's off to work at her parents' Baskin-Robbins franchise. After putting in a few hours behind the counter serving ice cream, Proctor is ready to hit the pitch for a two-hour workout with Greenwood.
These days, Proctor is working on getting more creative with the ball. In the past, she's been able to rely on her speed to run by defenders. At the national level, everyone's fast, so she needs to rely more on technique. If the solution is hard work, Proctor will have it figured out in no time.
"She can't get enough soccer," Greenwood says. "She'll train with my younger teams, go to my clinics. She'll go to any practice she can."
With skills as varied as the Baskin-Robbins menu, Proctor was in high demand for the Youth National Teams as she got older. Last November, she awoke to a message on the family's answering machine inviting her to play with the U-15 team in Florida at the Thanksgiving Interregional. The tourney was starting in two days and Proctor needed to decide immediately.
"It was a shock," her mom says. "We had no idea she was even being considered."
For one of the few times in her soccer career, Proctor was intimidated.
"I was really scared and had to decide if I really wanted to go," she says.
But this is the opportunity a superstar like Proctor waits for. So she called back and said she was in. The next morning, an enormous box of Nike gear and a ticket for a red-eye to Florida arrived on her doorstep.
Proctor was headed to the big time. And once she got on the pitch, the butterflies vanished.
"I always feel the most comfortable when I'm out on the field," Proctor says. "When I was out there, everything was fine. Soccer is soccer."
She must have done something right because four months later she was on the U-17 team for two international matches against Germany. Proctor was the youngest player on the U.S. squad, but she got in the scorebook with a goal in a 2-1 loss on Feb. 5.
"Every time she plays against the best, she tears it up," Greenwood says.
The next step is the U-17 Women's World Cup in Trinidad and Tobago next September. Proctor hasn't officially been named to the squad yet, but barring injury, it's a near lock. So although Proctor still doesn't own a passport, she's going to want to look into that.
A year after the World Cup, it's off to UCLA, where Proctor could give the perennial NCAA title contender (five consecutive trips to the Final Four without a championship) the boost needed to win it all.
In the long run, Proctor's resume seems destined to include a pro career and trips to the World Cup and Olympics.
"That would be amazing," she says. "It's such a humbling experience to represent your country."
Watch out: The future of women's soccer will be here before you know it.
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