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Philadelphia Union Academy trio making an impact as newcomers with Penn State

Will Campbell, Seth Kuhn and Kris Shakes have been key contributors since their arrival over the summer in the Happy Valley

Penn State Athletics

Will Campbell, Seth Kuhn and Kris Shakes all attended the same high school and played for the same academy team, but each of the Philadelphia Union Academy grads has taken a slightly different path to becoming teammates at Penn State this season.

Campbell is a grad student who was one of the early graduates of YSC Academy who spent his undergrad years mostly in the shadows at the University of North Carolina, where playing time was hard to come by. Kuhn is a sophomore who transferred from Duke University after his freshman year and Shakes is a first-year player getting his feet wet in the college game.

Head coach Jeff Cook also connects the dots back to the Union Academy as a former coach who is in his second year at the helm with Penn State. All three players were in the academy during his time coaching there.

“I think the familiarity that I have with these guys is a benefit,” Cook said. “I think I know a little bit what they’re capable of and hopefully they understand what I’m like as a coach, what my expectations might be, how we’ll go about our business on a daily basis. The good part if all goes well it gives us a head start and I’m pleased with all three of them, they’ve gotten off to a good start.”

Campbell and Kuhn have started all four games so far this season and Shakes has started twice, allowing just one goal combined in games against Stony Brook and Stetson.

Shakes, a Florida native who was a regular in training and in the 18 for Bethlehem Steel FC over the past two years, is splitting time with redshirt junior Josh Levine.

“It’s been hard to adapt but it’s gone well for me going from YSC to college now and Seth and Will and everyone here have been helping me adapt and it’s helping me to do better in school and on the field,” Shake said.

Kuhn made seven starts and 18 appearances in his first season of college soccer at Duke, where he was a teammate of another Union Academy grad in Issa Rayyan, who left school early to sign a professional deal with the Bethlehem Steel. Kuhn spent time close to his hometown in Wyomissing, Pa. over the summer with Reading United, where Branden Hackenburg also spent the summer and where senior captain Aaron Molloy and senior midfielder Pierre Reedy have also played.

“It’s kind of refreshing to be able to get a clean start with Jeff and Penn State,” Kuhn said. “Things just weren’t really working out for me personally at Duke so I found myself in a place where I feel comfortable and I can get better. To have the other Philly Union kids here makes it feel more like home.”

Campbell, who was highly touted during his academy career made just 10 appearances in three seasons with the Tar Heels after redshirting his freshman year in Chapel Hill. He could’ve transferred out earlier to find more playing time, but he said he was still able to develop during his time with the team even if he wasn’t playing a lot in games.

“The thing that kept me there was honestly my development,” Campbell said. “Even though I wasn’t getting in those big games and getting a lot of looks from professional teams and people really seeing me play in games I was still developing as a player.”

A decision to turn pro for another Philadelphia Union Academy center back — Ben Ofeimu, who signed with the Steel in January — opened up a spot and a need for a center back in the team that Campbell has stepped confidently into. As the starter again at last, he hopes to use his final season as a showcase for pro scouts.

“I want to play professionally next season,” Campbell said.

In addition to filling a spot on the field, Campbell has brought experience and leadership skills to a team with nine freshman that’s coming off a disappointing 6-9-2 record in Cook’s first year but are off to a 2-1-1 record early.

“When I talked to the coaches at UNC they raved about him and the way he handled himself, how mature he was and how he kept the team at the forefront,” Cook said of Campbell.

The Wallingford, Pa. native will be sharing the field with even more familiar faces from his youth soccer days tonight when Villanova comes into Jeffrey Field. Twin brothers Shane Bradley and Conor Bradley, who are leading the Wildcats on the defensive and offensive end this season, both played with Campbell in the Union Academy after playing together at Nether United, where Philadelphia Union center back Auston Trusty was also a teammate.

“I have all good memories from (Nether United),” Campbell said. “It’s something that I hold dear and part of the reason I love soccer so much.”

Villanova comes in 4-0-0 for the first time since 2012 and hasn’t conceded a goal, but they’ll face a Nittany Lions team that has more wins so far than their previous four opponents combined. The game kicks off at 7 p.m. and is available to stream on BTN+.