Boys soccer: Kates makes Panthers proud with Division-I commitment

Boulder's Ben Kates will play college ball at Bryant in the fall.
Boulder’s Ben Kates will play college ball at Bryant in the fall.

As successful as the Boulder boys soccer squad has been in recent years, this might surprise you: The Panthers haven’t had a Division-I college signee since 1997.

Well, until now, that is.

Left defender Ben Kates will play at Bryant University next season, a Rhode Island-based member of the Northeast Conference. The deft ball handler, whose niche is playing equally efficient with either foot, scored five goals and registered one assist for the Panthers this season — lofty totals for a defender.

“He’s just worked really hard on refining his game and becoming more tactically intelligent with the ball,” Boulder coach Hardy Kalisher said. “His senior year, he came in stronger with more muscle mass, and he really worked hard out of high school to improve his game.”

Kates also received offers from Whitworth University (Washington), Westminster College (Utah) and Lawrence College (Wisconsin). The University of Vermont offered him an opportunity to walk on.

“I wanted to play D-I and I wanted to go to a smaller school,” Kates said. “The University of Vermont was a big school. I’m also looking to go into an economics major or possibly an accounting major, and Bryant is a huge business school.”

Undersized to begin high school, Kates spent his freshman and sophomore seasons as a starting left back for the junior varsity squad. He made varsity as a junior but didn’t start until this season, as he was stuck behind others in a program notoriously stocked with prime defenders. However, his work with a club team in the Colorado Rapids Academy — in which he played a year up — allowed schools to get him on their radar.

“That helped a lot with the whole recruiting deal,” Kates said.

His 5-foot-9 stature prohibits him from being a physically imposing defender, but he is strong and solid, quick and smart. Although a few Boulder players have received D-I offers in recent seasons, Kates is the first to sign since Jesse Gossett went to Texas Christian in 1997 (the Horned Frogs no longer have a men’s soccer program).

Kates’ finest game for the Panthers (9-4-3) this season also was his most bizarre. He scored three goals in a win against Monarch, but the Front Range League first-team selection suffered a concussion later in the game and missed about two weeks of action.

Colleges undoubtedly were attracted by Kates’ ability to bomb the ball with either foot, something he said came naturally when he first learned the game as a kid.

“My natural foot is my right, because I’m right-handed,” he said. “But being able to use both, it’s always kind of been that way. But I practice hard to keep them the same.”

Kalisher insists Kates’ left foot is “better than most players who are naturally left-footed.”

Bryant University seems to think so, as well.