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U.S. U-17 Defender Nikkye de Point Spent the Week Training with the Rhinos

Nikkye Kidd de Point is a 16-year-old Rochester native taking advantage of the chance to train with the Rochester Rhinos while on break from the U-17 residency program.

Nikkye has spent most of the past two years in the U-17 residency program
Nikkye has spent most of the past two years in the U-17 residency program
U.S. Soccer

Nikkye started playing soccer around age 4 and joined the elite youth development program of its day in Rochester, the Junior Rhinos, as a youngster. In 2008, the Junior Rhinos merged with outfits in Buffalo and Syracuse to become Empire United and began participating in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy. Through this national platform, Nikkye was able to impress at a US Club Soccer id2 camp in 2011 and was scouted by national program scouts at a showcase playing with Empire.

Empire has been a large part of Nikkye's soccer development. He's been playing with the club for 6 or 7 years now, but his development as a person is derived from a different source. "I work hard and do the right thing based on my faith," he told me on Thursday. Nikkye credits his serendipitous discovery by U.S. scouts to God and his ability to excel at every step along the way in his young career to the personal motivation derived from his faith.

At each step along Nikkye's journey from Rochester to the U.S. U-17 national team, Nikkye has proven himself and performed admirably. The 16 year old centerback is training with the Rhinos for this week while on break from U.S. U-17 residency in Bradenton, FL. Nikkye told me that he reached out to a few professional clubs requesting to train with them before returning to Florida for the end of the semester. The Rhinos were really excited about the idea, Nikkye said that local club was "adamant" and they definitely "wanted to make it work."

When I spoke to Bob Lilley this week about Nikkye, the coach praised the young defender but was clear about the interaction. "This isn't a trial or anything," Lilley told me. Despite the strides made in nurturing developmental soccer in this country, Lilley said it was unlikely that many 16 year old players could cope with the physical demands of a league like the USL. "At this point he's probably not looking to play in Rochester," Lilley remarked, referring to the option to play in college.

Despite shying away from the possibility of signing Nikkye, Lilley praised the youngster. "He's held his own during training and he's done fine with the group," the Rhinos' head coach said. "His primary position is centerback and he's already 6' at just 16 years old but if he stops growing he's dynamic enough to play outside."

Nikkye himself mentioned that he's been told by national team coaches that professional centerbacks should be at least 6'2" but he's not worried about the prospect of playing as a fullback. "I've been a centerback pretty much my whole life but I can play anywhere across the back. I was actually initially scouted as a fullback."

The former McQuaid varsity player had nothing but positive things to say about the Rochester Rhinos, the coaches, and the players. "It's a good set-up, really good. They're doing really well this year, which is always good to see. Coach Lilley definitely knows his soccer and he expects a lot from his players. He makes sure everyone works hard in training even though they're in first place."

Nikkye said that he got "a bunch of good feedback" from Lilley during the course of his training time. He also noted that "the other guys were shocked that I was only 16," which could refer to his composure on the field or his overall mature demeanor.

De Point is set to complete his fourth semester at the residency program at Bradenton in the coming weeks. "I've grown really close to the other guys in Residency," he told me. Perhaps the greatest benefit to the development of teenagers into mature young professionals, both on and off the field, Nikkye noted: "We've only really had each other because we don't have our parents down there so we grew to hold each other accountable."

When I asked Nikkye about his future, and which particular path he sees soccer taking him, he paused and gave a thoughtful response. "While turning pro is the ultimate goal, college is something I should definitely do first. Even if it's just 1 or 2 years, it's where I should go first." This sentiment is reminiscent of another recent Rochester soccer prodigy, Jordan Allen, who spent one season at the University of Virginia before signing as a homegrown player with Real Salt Lake.

"I played with [Jordan] a little bit before he went to college, after RSL, when he played the second half of the DA season with Empire," Nikkye said. "He's a really cool dude and I'm excited to see him doing so well in MLS and getting called into the national team." Allen was named on Tab Ramos's squad for the 2015 U-20 World Cup; Nikkye hopes to make the cut for the U-17 competition later this year.

Second-year head coach Bob Lilley told me this week that he didn't need much convincing to allow Nikkye to train with his team. "We're providing an environment for him to train at a high level while he's off from residency." Lilley mentioned that he made similar arrangements with local players as the coach of Vancouver and Montreal in the past.

After speaking to both Bob Lilley and Nikkye Kidd de Point, the training sessions seem to have gone well for the 16-year-old. The team has offered an invitation to Nikkye to train with the team again over the summer after he finishes his final semester in Florida. The directors of the U-17 residency programs, including Coach Richie Williams, encourage all players to seek out challenging training environments when they're not in Bradenton or in camp with the national team.

This same scenario played out last year when then-15-year-old midfield whiz-kid Christian Pulisic trained with Harrisburg City Islanders before fulfilling his transfer to Borussia Dortmund in Germany. Pulisic is from nearby Hershey, Pennsylvania, and arranged two weeks of training with the eventual 2014 USL PRO finalists in late June.

Even with the creative and even improvised contract arrangements that allow young players to train or even play on professional teams, Nikkye isn't getting ahead of himself. Despite amateur contracts that maintain NCAA eligibility, like those signed by Matthew Gianfortone of the Carolina RailHawks recently, or even LA Galaxy II's unique offer to Ryu Fujii to subsidize his education as Cal State Dominguez Hills while playing with the USL team, Nikkye is taking his career day-by-day.

The 16-year-old is focusing on finishing his sophomore year of high school but he has verbally committed to Villanova of the Big East. ‘Nova has a lot to offer the young Rochester native, but many things can change between now and Nikkye's anticipated college matriculation in the fall of 2017. Instead of fretting about intangibles and abstracts, Nikkye is determined to improve his personal skills and he can now count USL veteran coach Bob Lilley as an admirer.