What started as a child admiring his father quickly turned into a passion for a sport. Cole Kulhanek remembers watching his father play goalie in a recreational soccer game at the age of 6. Wanting to be like him, Cole decided that he too would play football and be a goalie. This desire led Kulhanek to a life dedicated to football. And, at just 17, he’s already reached levels of play that few will ever reach.
Kulhanek is in his fifth year performing with the Seattle Sounders Academy. When he started with the team, as a college kid, he left school in the middle of the day to get to practice on time. Eventually, the training – or game – schedule six to seven days a week got too long. With the goal of playing football to the next level, he decided to leave Sehome High School and move to Issaquah, where he lives with his teammate Cody Baker and his family.
Kulhanek now attends an online high school that balances the school with its rigorous training program. This approach is not traditional and it can be difficult to be away from his family, but he chooses to do what is best for his football career.
Kulhanek has remained as the goalkeeper, resulting in all the pressure to be his team’s last line of defense.
“It’s pretty difficult because you’re sort of in your own mental zone; no one has the same position in the team, ”says Kulhanek. “It can be a pretty lonely position throughout the game, but it’s also fun sliding through the mud.”
With most high school students approaching the middle of their final year and eagerly awaiting the spring soccer season, Kulhanek has embarked on a different path. Playing at the high level offered by the Seattle Sounders Academy caught the attention of colleges, and Kulhanek became committed to Grand Canyon University. Eager to keep progressing, Kulhanek did extra work to graduate from high school earlier. He has just completed his last classes and will graduate at the end of 2021.
Wasting no time, he entered college on January 3, a few weeks before his 18th birthday. Getting to college early is a big deal for Kulhanek, as it would be for any teenager, but he’s more excited than nervous. Having lived away from home before, he feels prepared for the transition. He’s thrilled to be on campus and to feel comfortable with his classes and his team so that when the time comes, he’s ready to perform in the field.
Kulhanek had options as to which college to play at, but Grand Canyon University stood out because of the team’s mindset. “Other schools were more individual and each wanted to go their own way,” says Kulhanek. “But at Grand Canyon University, every player wants the collective to win, not just individual achievements. There really was a feeling of oneness.
While Kulhanek is thrilled to step onto the field and play for Grand Canyon University, his ultimate goals extend beyond college. “Going to the highest level possible has always been my goal,” he says. “Just to push me as far as possible. My goal is to be professional for at least part of my life, whether it’s in the next two or four years. I will try to continue this as long as my body can take it.
If he has the opportunity to play professionally before he graduates, he will go without hesitation but will not lose sight of his training. He plans to specialize in business and sports management. While his football career takes him away from in-person education, he plans to complete his education online and knows other professional football players who are doing the same.
Kulhanek hopes to one day return to the Sounders’ organization as a professional goalkeeper, but he’s ready to go wherever it takes to make his dream come true. There are other MLS teams and a lot of football around the world where he would gladly take a place as a goalie.
“We’re the one position that can’t be moved to another, and there’s only one that plays, so there are very few that are kept on a roster every year,” Kulhanek says.
Grand Canyon University’s football season begins in the summer of 2022. Kulhanek will need to earn a starting spot, but keep an eye out for him as there’s no doubt he will work hard to be on this pitch.
Check out some of Kulhanek’s highlights in 2020: