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Chapel Hill native Nick Holliday signs guaranteed future contract with Charlotte FC

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Nicholas Holliday during practice in Charlotte on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024.Photo courtesy of Alana McCallion for Charlotte FC.

North Carolina FC coach Mike McGinty had to remind himself that his starting goalkeeper, Nick Holliday, was just a teenager.

After a 3-1 loss against the Chattanooga Red Wolves in 2021, Holliday was almost in tears. He's known for his mature demeanor, but at that moment, McGinty remembered Holliday was only 15. 

“I just remember giving him a hug and letting him know that what he was doing [was] unheard of,” McGinty said. 

Indeed, Holliday is unprecedented. When he debuted for NCFC in June 2021, he became the youngest goalkeeper to start in a USL League One game. Now, after signing an MLS NEXT Pro contract with Crown Legacy FC, Holliday is guaranteed a future contract with Charlotte FC in 2025. Oh, and he turned 18 just a month ago. 

How Holliday got here is a testament to what his coaches and family describe as a maturity beyond his years. But his path wasn’t always easy. As a young goalie, Holliday had to learn how to stay confident.

"You can't just put your head down"

Even before joining NCFC’s academy, Nick Holliday’s brother Christopher remembers how Nick grew faster than his peers. But Nick made sure that wasn’t his only advantage — he could also put into practice the technical skills his coaches taught him at a faster rate than the other kids.

“My parents always instilled in me hard work and if there's something you want to do just go full in — always shoot for the stars,” Nick said. “I think people around me knew that and knew how much I love this game and knew how much I wanted from it.”

Nick started taking his diet seriously at age 12. From then on, he ate a veggie with every meal. Fries had to be oven-baked. No birthday cake. These days, you can barely get him to eat popcorn.

“He used to be my big snack partner,” Corey Holliday, Nick’s dad, said. “But I’m eating snacks alone now.”

The same dedication to dieting was applied to practices. Despite a demanding NCFC schedule — practice in the mornings, classes at Charles E. Jordan High School in the afternoons — Nick was always present. He said he can name at least 55 people, from his dad to his dad’s secretaries, who drove him to NCFC’s morning practices while he didn’t have a car. 

Some adjustments to his new life were easier, but others took time.

NCFC finished dead last in USL League One in 2021 and again in 2022. Nick expects to do well, so in losing streaks like the one NCFC was on, Christopher said Nick could see every goal as his fault.

“I think I honestly just told him ‘You just have to enjoy what you're doing,’” Christopher said. “'Don't focus on the results as much as the process.”'

Enjoy what he’s doing? That’s always been the easy part for Nick.

“You can't put your head down, you know?” Holliday said. “At the end of the day, I'm being paid to just kick a ball.”

"I did my job"

A few months into Holliday's NCFC tenure, he was already getting looks from top European clubs. McGinty recalls Nick’s trial in 2022 with German Bundesliga leader Bayer Leverkusen.

McGinty and Holliday flew to Germany and landed at noon. Leverkusen asked Holliday to train at 5 p.m., meaning there was no time for a jet lag recovery nap — straight to training. 

“Most players would have said ‘Hey, you know what?’” McGinty said. “‘[I've] just been on the plane. I would like to get a hot meal and just find my room.’”

However, Holliday accepted with no hesitation. According to McGinty, Holliday wanted to get after it and have some fun, and he excelled in that trial. 

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Holliday rarely turns down the chance to get better, even when he feels low.

Christopher remembers how in high school, Nick practiced his skills by himself or with his friends at Chapel Hill's Hooker Fields to clear his mind.

So, unsurprisingly, after NCFC’s disappointing finish in 2021, Holliday got right to work.

He focused on just a couple of skills — passing with his weak foot and reactions — so he could see a jump in his abilities and gain confidence. He got into weightlifting, making gains at UNC’s Bill Koman Practice Complex while the football team wasn’t there.

McGinty and head coach John Bradford had the full support of NCFC owner Steve Malik to stick by Holliday and persist through the losing stretch, which McGinty said not many owners would do.

Holliday improved in the following seasons. He was more aggressive in positioning himself to save shots and had sharper passes. He could command his defense, telling teammates where to mark. 

Holliday didn’t get too excited about his growth — after his first career clean sheet in 2022, Corey recalls Nick telling him “Well, that's what I'm supposed to do. I did my job.”

Even so, on car rides home, his parents made sure to point out all the good they had seen him do.

Soon enough, NCFC went from the basement of the league to the top. In the 2023 season, NCFC won the USL League One title, and Holliday recorded three clean sheets in 13 appearances before a season-ending injury.

Ask Holliday how he kept positive through the losing stretches, and he’ll tell you he gained some perspective. Like his brother said, he enjoys what he’s doing.

Holliday is the type of guy who can’t skip a day at the gym. Not when he’s vacationing with his family in Hawaii. Not when he flew back from California on a Saturday morning for his prom after a game the night before. He still has to go to the gym.

Because from the point he realized he could play professional soccer, Holliday has always found solace in getting better with the ball at his feet — or hands.

@dmtwumasi

@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com