When Aaron Molloy first visited the campus of Penn State University, he stood on the pristine pitch at Jeffrey Field, looked around and imagined himself playing for the Nittany Lions.
Months later, he’ll get the opportunity to do just that when he suits up for the Nittany Lions in their regular season opener at home against Hofstra.
“I took a deep breath, took it all in and knew this was where I wanted to be,” Molloy recalled in a phone interview earlier this week.
Reading United factors in heavily to the 19-year-old’s recent arrival in State College.
The Republic of Ireland native, who was playing soccer the night the rest of his family saw Penn State’s gridiron football team play UCF at nearby Croke’s Park in Dublin in 2014, first got connected with the Philadelphia Union’s Premier Development League affiliate through his coaches at the FAI Soccer Academy two years ago.
At the time, fellow Irishman Alan McCann was coaching at Reading United and helped connect Molloy with the Reading and the NAIA school Molloy would end up playing with for a season, Keiser University in Florida. McCann was then and continues to serve as an assistant at Keiser.
“Alan McCann was the biggest influence in getting me to come over,” Molloy said. “And he was a big influence in me moving onto a bigger school.”
After a successful season at Keiser, Molloy returned to Reading United back in May still somewhat of an unknown but with a couple ACC schools interested.
“We were really late to the party,” Penn State head coach Bob Warming said of the recruiting process. “But I think that with Aaron, when we found out he was available, , what swayed him, guys like Pierre Reedy, Connor and Austin (Maloney) from our team had played at Reading and spoke very positively of their experience.”
After scoring a goal in two appearances in 2016, Molloy had a breakout year this summer at Reading with seven goals in 11 games. The midfielder finished the PDL season ranked 14th on the league’s Top 20 prospects list and was named Young Player of the Year.
Molloy also had a chance to train with Bethlehem Steel FC and the Philadelphia Union over the summer. The experience taught him a lot about soccer in the U.S. and what it will take to get to the next level.
“I knew I wanted a bigger challenge,” Molloy said.
Penn State is of course bigger than Keiser in nearly every way possible.
“The facilities here are better than most pro teams around, especially in Ireland and in parts of England,” he said. “I definitely made the right decision coming here.”
His addition is certainly welcome in Happy Valley, where the Nittany Lions are looking to rebound from a pair of down seasons and the loss of two star players who have gone pro in Connor Maloney and Robbie Sagel, both Reading United alums.
“He's a very good shooter, a talented player,” Warming said. “He owes a lot to the folks at Reading for helping get him exposure. I think that's the value of a club like Reading, when you're playing with a lot of good players, it's going to be easier to evaluate you and whether you have a chance to play at the next level.”
Molloy and the Nittany Lions kick off their season tonight at 7 p.m. before traveling to California to play UC Irvine on September 1 and Loyola Marymount two days later.