At a time like this, it never hurts to have more to look forward to.
On Nov. 12, Cal men’s soccer head coach Kevin Grimes gave Bears fans two more reasons to look forward to future seasons when he announced the signing of Kevin Carmichael and Santiago Hopkins to national letters of intent.
The two defenders hail from the same club located in Woodland Hills — Real So Cal Academy — which is also the former club of current Cal players Taylor Davila, Francisco Perez and Evan Davila.
According to Grimes, both have the versatility to play multiple different positions.
“(Carmichael) is considered one of the nation’s best center backs,” Grimes said. “With his talent, he could even play the six (defensive midfield position) with all of the skill sets he possesses.”
Carmichael’s talent is what should have Cal fans most excited, but Carmichael’s ability to plug and play may be the most crucial asset he brings to this Bears team. Starting junior center back JJ Foe Nuphaus has been a mainstay in the starting lineup, but in two years time, Grimes will need a solid player to replace him. Defensive midfielder Taylor Davila is also a junior and will finish his collegiate athletic career after the 2021-22 season. With Carmichael’s broad soccer knowledge and skill set, he may be able to earn playing time sooner than most new recruits, and hit the ground running after older players leave the program.
Hopkins may be presented with the same early opportunities to earn playing time given the fact that, aside from his adaptability to multiple positions, he can attack as well as defend.
“Santiago has been identified as an excellent two-way player that has versatility to play 2-3 different positions on the field,” Grimes said. “Immediately, you notice his exceptional speed along with great defensive instincts.”
The speedy defender’s signing could not have come at a better time for the Bears as this season, for the first time in four years, the Bears will be without their former captain and 30th overall pick in last year’s MLS draft, Simon Lekressner. The standout right back was a mainstay of the Cal back line, making 65 appearances for the Bears, including 31 in his first two seasons. Grimes faces a difficult task in finding an adequate replacement for Lekressner this year.
Carmichael and Hopkins both said Cal’s academic and athletic reputations played an important role in their decisions.
“I chose Cal because opportunities there are endless whether it’s educationally or athletically,” Carmichael said. “The University of California is a place where I can better myself and be put up against the best of the best.”
Hopkins is hopeful that Cal will get back to winning ways as he earns his degree from the top public university in the country.
“To be a part of a community of such diversity and history, and to be taught by Nobel laureates, all while being able to compete for a national title, was an opportunity I just couldn’t pass up,” he said.
As the only program in the Pac-12 that has not started training for the upcoming spring season due to COVID-19-related constraints imposed by the city of Berkeley, campus administration and the Cal athletic department, the Bears are doing whatever they can to prepare. It’s clear that even though the pandemic has made normal athletic operations difficult, Grimes and the rest of his staff have succeeded on the recruiting trail, adding two pieces that will prove vital in more normal seasons to come.
William Cooke covers men’s soccer. Contact him at [email protected].