Aaron Molloy had no idea about the NAIA, NCAA or Division I growing up in Ireland.
But, after spending time at Keiser University and three outstanding years at Penn State, the Dublin-born midfielder had done more than just grow up.
“When you go to college, you are with your teammates every day, and there is no doubt those boys become more than your teammates,” Molloy said.
“They become family.”
“There are guys I went to school with I speak to every day, and know I will for the rest of my life.”
Molloy’s father Trevor is a former Ireland international and League of Ireland star, and after finishing school, it looked like Aaron would follow in his father’s footsteps as a professional. However, after making a handful of appearances for Drogheda United in the Irish First Division as a 19-year-old, Molloy linked up with Irishman Alan McCann at Keiser University in 2016.
Despite missing multiple games through injury, Molloy’s freshman campaign at Keiser yielded Sun Conference Freshman of the Year honors and a greater desire to play at the next level.
“I had a really good freshman year, but if I wanted to get into the combine and play professionally, I would have to get to a bigger school,” Molloy said.
“Choosing Penn State was a no-brainer for me, the facilities are amazing and I knew I would become a better player and person in that community.”
Molloy finished his tenure at Penn State with a Big Ten Midfielder of the Year Award and All-Big Team first team honors. That senior year saw Molloy dominate teams across the country, bagging nine goals and six assists as well as captaining a Penn State team which qualified for their first NCAA Tournament in five years.
After coming from further away than most to play college soccer, Molloy is a passionate advocate for the journey and the experiences that come with it.
“You don’t understand it while you are in college, but when I look back to where I was as a freshman to where I am now, there’s no doubt those four years made me who I am today.”
“My goal was always to play professionally, but at 18 I don’t know if I was really ready for that step. I was getting to know myself, what type of player I was and more importantly, what type of person I was.”
“I’m forever grateful for the [college] process. When I look back to my freshman year now, my time in college shaped me as a person. It’s a great environment; really competitive and character building.”
That process saw Molloy invited to the MLS Combine, where he impressed and soon after picked up by the Portland Timbers with the 16th pick of the 2020 SuperDraft.
After spending a few months in the MLS system, Molloy has had time to reflect on his exceptional four-year college career.
“Each year I got better physically and mentally,” Molloy said.
“Learning from different people, seeing a new part of the world and getting the opportunity to play at a high level was amazing.”
Players like Molloy and Manchester City’s Jack Harrison have made the college route more visible for teenagers overseas looking to forge a different path. There is no doubt it is the road less traveled, but Molloy believes it is becoming more and more feasible.
“Kids think when you’re not a professional by 19 it’s the end of the world, but the reality is there are so many opportunities out there.”
“Yes, it is a different path, but it is also a fantastic opportunity to improve your game.”
“I wouldn’t change my time at college for the world.”
Aaron Molloy took the leap, went down the path less traveled and reaped the rewards. He spent four years in the US college system, earned a degree and realized his dream of being a professional footballer. His advice for potential college recruits?
“Just take the step.”
“You need to see what it is like for yourself and make the most of your opportunities. Keep an open mind, because you never know where it [attending college] can take you.”