Bilal Duckett is looking to grow as a soccer player and in his faith with the Charlotte Eagles.
“I joined the team for two reasons,” Duckett said. “First, I grew up a Christian.”
The Eagles (5-10-3) are the only USL Pro team dedicated to Christian ministry, particularly through soccer camps that gives players time with kids in a Christian setting.
Duckett, a defender who is in his first season with Charlotte after playing with Major League Soccer’s New England Revolution, recalled that several children gave their lives to Christ at a recent camp, which is something he enjoys playing a part in. In such settings, Duckett is able to encourage younger generations to “dream bigger.”
Charlotte’s other draw for the Macon, Ga., native was the opportunity to play center back, as he has traditionally played right back. Duckett models his style of play after several players, such as Brazilian defender Marcelo and Vincent Kompany of Belgium.
“He has made great strides at that position and is becoming a force there,” Eagles head coach Mark Steffens said, adding the Notre Dame graduate’s athleticism is a “gift from God. He is very quick and has blinding speed.”
At 6-foot-2, Duckett’s height makes him ideal for set pieces—corner kicks or free kicks, which give him the opportunity to press forward for a chance to get shots on goal. His composure and confidence is evident on the field in tight game situations, which as Steffens noted, make him a “strong role model that … younger players look up to.”
Steffens believes that if Duckett “continues to improve at this rate he will be one of the premier center-backs in the USL.”
Duckett took up soccer at age 4. “I played soccer, basketball and baseball until I was 13,” he said. “Actually I gave up baseball around 11.”
While basketball was his first love, Duckett’s family encouraged him to pursue soccer. They follow the English club Arsenal and Duckett has competed against former Arsenal star Thierry Henry, who plays for MLS’s New York Red Bulls.
If the opportunity presents itself, he would like to return to MLS, where he was drafted 37th overall in 2011 by the Vancouver Whitecaps, or play in Europe. Regardless of where he is, he considers himself “supremely blessed,” and looks to use his gifts both on and off the field.
When he pulls on his jersey, Duckett plays for God andfamily, particularly his grandmother who recently passed away. Playing with the Eagles has put Duckett closer to his family than at any time since he left home for Notre Dame.
“Playing soccer is my dream,” he said.