Eliot Hamill didn’t have grand illusions of what his early career with the Duke men’s soccer team would be like. He went from a small high school and a little-known travel program — and not being an Academy player —knowing he’d be a backup goalie to a veteran with international experience, all the time holding the belief he was capable of taking over some day at the Division I level. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that shot came earlier than expected.
With a shortened season in the fall of 2020 — just eight ACC games — and now-Major League Soccer Austin FC goalie Will Pulisic having graduated at the end of the semester, 2018 Edgemont graduate Hamill was gifted a nine-game spring season against Charlotte, Kentucky, UNCW, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Virginia, NC State and North Carolina. Hamill started 7 of 9 games and in the two games he didn’t start he tallied 110 minutes of shutout ball.
Over 802 minutes, Hamill made 30 saves, good for a .750 save percentage, a 1.12 goals against average and a 2-3-3 record. Hamill made his debut on Feb. 12 with 110 minutes of a clean sheet in a 0-0 tie with Charlotte, making five saves. He also put up a shutout against NC State on April 3, making a pair of saves. March 19 saw season highs in goals against (four), saves (seven) and shots faced (19).
When Duke has its first official season since 2019 in the fall, Hamill — should he earn the starting goalie job — will be replacing two-time All-ACC Pulisic, who started 66 games, had 200 saves, allowed 84 goals and had a 1.25 goals against average and a .704 save percentage. He has the chance to officially fill the big cleats he’d been the understudy to for three years.
Coming from Edgemont, Golden Touch United and NY Surf Golden Touch in high school, Hamill was two-time All-State and helped lead his club teams to acclaim in local and national tournaments. He was always a stellar goalie, though a bit under the radar.
“Eliot knew that coming in, that he’d be sitting for a couple of years,” Edgemont coach Mike Cozza said. “He’s the type of kid who was patient enough and knew what his role would be in college that if he worked hard he would be ready when he got his shot. Not many kids from Westchester would be that patient. They’d usually transfer after the first year or two. He knew going in, he accepted it and hopefully now he’s taking advantage of it.”
The work ethic Hamill was able to put forth in college with more resources than in high school certainly helped him improve.
“We have a fun atmosphere here, where there they are competing for jobs,” Cozza said. “He was understudy to a great goalie, but now in college you have a goalie coach and a trainer and a nutritionist. He was playing as a boy in high school and now he’s a man.”
Hamill never saw Pulisic as an adversary. Arriving at Duke for freshman year was a chance to learn from and train alongside one of the best around. It was an opportunity with no pressure attached. He also had then-goalie coach Chris Rich, now the head coach at UNC Greensboro, to guide him.
“He’s an amazing goal-keeping coach, the head of our crew,” Hamill said. “With him and being behind Will I learned so much the fall of my freshman year. It was my biggest growth year. You come in with big eyes and a lot going on and all the players are great and Chris just helps you settle in, find your place and gain confidence, which is really important.”
Duke was a top 10 team and lost to eventual NCAA champion Maryland in 2018. Hamill played in a spring game against Clemson, a win that ended in a shootout, his first — though unofficial — collegiate experience. “Then sophomore year we had a rough season,” Hamill said. “It was a bumpy ride, but still a good experience.”
Following the condensed fall 2020 season, with COVID-19 rules, regulations and restrictions lessened, many teams were able to get in a second spring season to make up for lost times. “It was sad to see Will go, but I was happy to get my chance,” Hamill said. “It was perfect for me. I was super lucky.”
The improvement as an underclassman was more circumstantial, based on feel for Hamill. There really was no metric to measure besides playing in the elite USL League 2 summer league and then putting his skills into motion this past spring.
“I think it was just the way I was training and the way I felt afterwards,” Hamill said. “Freshman year I was still going in a little nervous just to train and I would come out of training and I wouldn’t feel great. My sophomore season I couldn’t wait to get on the field and train, couldn’t wait to perform. I knew I was going to have a great practice. I came off the field feeling that way. How I felt about training is how I was growing and coming into my own.”
Hamill did not throw away his shot this past spring. “I came in with a lot of confidence and I made my presence known,” he said. “I think I gave the team energy. I was loud back there and I did a good job of commanding the box, which is underrated in college soccer. My strongest point is shot-stopping and I think I made some big saves. Not as many as I had to make, but one or two every game that helped us a lot. Goalkeepers can always work on distribution and I can always work on my feet. That’s an aspect I’ll always strive to be better at.”
Showing that he had the goods from a no-name high school to one of the most prominent universities in the country was one of the most satisfying aspects of Hamill’s story.
“I think there was a lot of uncertainty about me specifically coming into the season,” he said. “I had never played in a game until spring of my junior year, which is a long time to not play, and I was coming from Edgemont High School, which college soccer has never heard of, and I had played for a small club team outside of Edgemont that no one had ever heard of, and a national team goalkeeper came into Duke, so that’s a lot of question marks seeing me on the roster.
“It was really good to get on the field and prove that I deserved to be there and I could perform at a high level, maybe prove some people wrong, surprise some people. I think I even surprised my own coaches. I felt really good about it.”
Hamill always knew he “fit in,” but said, “It was a feeling and now I have the results to back it up.”
Getting ready for his senior season had been on Hamill’s mind while commuting to the city for a summer internship. He was helping lead team Zoom calls as a team captain and resting an injured thumb from the spring, while keeping in shape to be ready for when he reported back to campus for captains practices Aug. 1.
“We’re getting really excited for the fall,” Hamill said. “We think we’re going to turn things around this year. We’re really young and we were starting five or six freshmen who have that experience now, and we lost a lot of tight games and hopefully that was just a little bit of inexperience.”
After he graduates next spring, Hamill will have several options. He knows trying to go pro can be a “tough life,” and he can also join the work force with his political economy and economics degree or even get a fifth year of eligibility as a graduate student. “I’m open to anything at this point,” he said.
Until then his team will try to score as many goals as possible, while he’ll be there in the back shutting down the opposition.