Lucas Watt knows the benefits of being uncomfortable. The teenaged soccer phenom has had his share of adversity over the past year, but it has only made him stronger. Born in Repentigny, Quebec, to parents Ben and Dolaine, Lucas went to preschool and daycare in Kuujjuaq, before moving to Pierrefonds in southern Quebec. He returns often though as his father and his side of the family are in Kuujjuaq.
Speaking on the phone from his home outside of Montreal in July, Lucas was late because he lost track of time. He had headed out for a short run but ended up going much longer than he planned – he was pushing himself – something not at all out of character for him.
Recently back from a year at Montverde Academy in Montverde, Florida, a prestigious boarding school known for its athletics, Lucas was continuing to train. After completing his final year of high school in Quebec in 2020, he was recruited and did a senior year in Florida in 2020-21, where he was captain of his soccer team and named 2021 Most Valuable Player.
Lucas started playing soccer in an organized league when he was about 4.
“As soon as I was put on the field, I loved it,” he said. But it wasn’t the first sport he tried. He says he was a sore loser as a kid and would give up on anything he tried that he wasn’t instantly good at. “The first time my parents and grandparents put me on skates, I fell flat on my face, and I never wanted to skate again,” he said, laughing.
That attitude obviously changed. Although used to being in Quebec leagues with older players, when Lucas arrived at Montverde, he realized that the athletic component of soccer in the States was promoted at a different level. He saw the abilities of other students recruited from places like Ghana, Thailand, and Brazil, and he knew he wasn’t going to be the most talented player. He was OK with that. “That to me was something I hadn’t felt before. But I grew to love it.”
The challenges didn’t stop there. In late October Lucas contracted a harsh case of COVID. He said it was the worst fatigue he’d ever felt. “I didn’t get much sleep at night, but pretty much all I could do during the day was nap. I spent a couple of nights in the washroom because I couldn’t keep anything down.”
Lucas’ father Ben Watt said while he wasn’t overly worried about complications from Lucas contracting the virus, his concern was for his son’s emotional wellbeing and mental health when he had to isolate, but he had full confidence in the academy’s medical team.
“They kept us updated on his vitals and they checked in on him three times a day; twice by video and once in person. I’d Facetime with him on the regular and could tell that he was handling it well.” Ben said. Lucas was out of commission for 22 days. But he came back with a vengeance, only to be hit with another obstacle.
Montverde Academy has a stellar history of placing its students into American colleges and universities, but COVID changed the rules. Travel by NCAA recruiters and coaches was restricted because of the pandemic and there were fewer matches being played overall. Highlight videos had to be created for players, and mechanical issues meant they had to be shot manually. A further wrinkle was created when the NCAA issued a policy stating any senior in college or university could have an extra year of eligibility because their senior year had been cancelled. That meant that not only were recruiters not allowed to visit and see recruits, but they were also able to keep their seniors another year, which meant they didn’t need any new players. By the end of the school year, only three students had been placed.
Lucas consulted with his coaches, and while they all agreed athletically and talent-wise he was a Division 1 soccer player, the problem was whether they could get colleges interested. But Lucas had learned from his time at Montverde that not necessarily being the star and not getting all the game time right away actually forced him to work harder and resulted in him becoming a stronger player.
“I told them that I’m OK with not playing on the 1st team. If there’s a reserve team, I’m OK with that and they took that as a really good sign,” he said. In early May he received a call from the coach at the University of Albany, in New York. The phone call ended up taking 1.5 hours, and ultimately led to Lucas accepting the offer.
His father Ben said he was most proud of Lucas for insisting to his Montverde coaches that he wouldn’t settle for less than a Division 1 NCAA university.
“Some assumed that he would be content with Division 2 or 3, because they get more field time right off the bat. He’s blazing a trail where he’ll have to earn field time,” he said, and training and practicing at UAlbany will challenge him and further push his development. “He works hard, believes in himself and that makes me very proud,” Ben said.
On the University of Albany’s website, freshman Great Danes defenseman Lucas Watt lists his hometown as Kuujjuaq, Quebec, Canada. Lucas said the past year, chock full of adversity, is what has propelled him to where he is now. To young Inuit he offered these words of advice: “Realize that it’s OK to not feel comfortable. Getting used to that uncomfortable zone is the only way we can really see a lot of growth in whatever field that may be. It’s about being OK with not being OK.”