WAPPINGERS FALLS, NY – Roy C. At Ketchum High School, you can feel the love for Tyler Adams
Jim has his Red Bulls jersey in a trophy case. The principal has a signed photo of Adams with him from graduation in his office.
The day I went to school the midfielder’s father greeted me in a Leeds United hoodie.
At just 23 years old, Adams captains the USMNT in one World Cup, Friday’s massive clash versus England.
For those who knew him as a teenager, his climb is fascinating.
Tyler Adams is seen with his father Darryl Sullivan (left) and Ketchum Principal David Sip during an elementary provisional graduation. Later that day he played for the Red Bulls vs. NYCFC
Adams Roy C. Balanced a burgeoning pro soccer career with his studies while at Ketchum
“I still get giddy when I watch Tyler play,” said Adams family friend and history teacher Matthew Paino.
‘I was scared, because here’s this kid I saw walking around the halls of Ketchum eating chicken nuggets from a cafeteria, and now he’s playing Liverpool on TV? I try to watch every game he plays and it’s surreal.’
“He’s Tyler,” added Principal David Sip. ‘She doesn’t want to be above everyone, she just wants to be her. It’s unbelievable, it’s surreal… because he’s homegrown and he’s this globally famous person.’
While Adams’ graduation from Ketchum five years ago may seem like a lifetime away, that time has only enhanced his reputation in Dutchess County.
As the midfielder has risen through the ranks of the football world, his bond with Ketchum feels even more important.
“Everybody comes up and asks, ‘How are you? What’s up?'” said his father, Darryl Sullivan. “It’s just a big part of everybody’s life.”
(Note: Sullivan is Adams’ stepfather, but she refers to him as her father and her three sons as her brothers. Her biological father is not in her life.)
Adams’ high school experience required sacrifice — and not just from him.
From the age of 16, Adams was balancing a pro soccer career with his schoolwork, as he first signed with Red Bulls II at that age.
Straddling these two worlds was a task that was a collective effort.
A game-worn Adams Red Bulls jersey is displayed near the gym in the school’s trophy case
Teachers worked with Adams — who attended two or three classes in the morning before going to training — to keep him up to date with lessons.
His parents often drove him the 75 miles to the Red Bulls’ New Jersey practice facility even after he started playing for the Red Bulls’ first team.
‘I was tired,’ said Sullivan.
And Adams himself was left with quite a bit of schoolwork outside of the classroom, as he was able to focus on his studies while emerging as a mainstay for the Red Bulls.
‘Everyone was great, I don’t know if Tyler would have gotten his diploma,’ said his mother, Melissa Russo, with a laugh.
‘Because they really put as much effort into Tyler as into making sure he got all the things he needed for the test and all that sort of thing.’
Adams’ parents had to drive him to practice because of his age even after he started playing pro
Adams had a good group of friends, did his homework, and frequented Smoothie King and Chipotle with his brothers.
But most kids don’t have ‘National Honor Society’ and ‘MLS Starter’ on their resume at the same time.
“I’m sure he didn’t feel like a real high school student,” Paino, who also taught Adams, said.
But I know that at least within our category… [we] He tried to make it as traditional a setting as possible for him.’
Adams’ unconventional high school experience, however, came with some positives.
Although he may have missed the opportunity to socialize while playing soccer at Ketchum, his burgeoning soccer career took him around the world as he traveled with the U.S. Under-17 National Team.
‘He’s doing very well. And I remind him of that,’ Sullivan said.
Adams was named captain of the USMNT ahead of their first game against Wales
‘He had times when he wasn’t at school when everyone else was at school, and he was wherever he was. He was in Florida, sitting on a beach…’
When he returns to the quiet surroundings of Wappinger Falls, some of the more monotonous moments of life await him.
According to his mother, that balance was important.
‘He still had a real life. He still had a home business, he still had to keep his house clean,’ she said.
‘It’s not like he lived… on his own. He still lived at home, even here he had rules. So I think all that combined definitely put things in perspective for him.’
It wasn’t just Adams’ home life that kept his feet on the ground.
Although he is now a favorite son of Ketchum, he was not given preferential treatment in its halls as a teenager.
As his football career continued to progress, he was actually denied a spot on the varsity basketball team—by his family friend (and former varsity coach) Pineo, no less.
With Adams spending time in Bradenton, Florida for the U-17 residency program at the IMG Academy, Paino doubted whether he deserved a varsity spot due to his limited availability.
Adams played JV instead, and Paino later apologized for the decision, downplaying the humble teenager’s situation.
The prodigious talent was also checked by the Red Bulls.
Tyler’s parents wanted him to experience homecoming and promotion, and that latter event came to pay off from his now two-time head coach.
Adams’ relationship with Jesse Marsh dates back to his days with the New York Red Bulls
Sullivan said of his son’s current Leeds United boss, ‘He asked Jesse Marsh to leave training early so he could go to the prom.
‘It was hysterical. And Jesse asked him in front of the whole team, and they were all laughing.’
If this incident made him blush, it represented his humility which he carries to this day.
Adams takes time out of her busy schedule to FaceTime suspended students (Sullivan runs the school’s in-school suspension system), giving them words of encouragement when they are in trouble. It is a way for him to give back to the place that helped his current trajectory in football.
Family also remains hugely important. Minutes after Leeds’ huge 2-1 win over Liverpool in October, Sullivan said Adams was texting his younger brother Dylan about their parents’ supposed plans to meet his girlfriend that night.
This kind of attention, however, extends beyond blood ties.
Adams’ parents have supported him in Leeds, and they are also lining up to support him
Paino recounts a story of his former college roommate — also a Ketchum alum — visiting a USMNT World Cup qualifier with his sons in Columbus, Ohio, with a homemade Adams sign in tow.
They were only looking for a wave from the midfielder, whom Paino had forewarned of their presence. He gives them a handshake and his captain’s armband in return.
‘I don’t know anybody who meets him who says, “Oh, he won’t take a picture with me or he won’t sign anything or he doesn’t have time for me,”‘ Russo said.
‘These are the qualities I want to see. Honestly I don’t care about his pass percentage on the field. I want him to go out there and have a great time and love what he’s doing. But the other things that people tell me… are what matter to me as a mother.’
Adams’ parents will be at Al Bait Stadium on Friday to watch their son play England after the USMNT’s 1-1 draw vs Wales.
It was a huge game – only his second at the World Cup – and yet his parents didn’t seem too nervous for a young man who was only five years removed from his high school graduation.
Principals David Sip and Sullivan Roy C. pose in front of the Adams sign at Ketchum HS.
‘You know it’s crazy to say, but I’m getting used to it, it’s weird,’ said his father.
‘Stress – I don’t even use that vocabulary to be honest with you Tyler. I think he loves it, that’s what he wants.’
It won’t be his first big game.
A trip to Anfield, a Champions League semi-final (with RB Leipzig) and a stint for his country against Mexico, among other Tests.
Adams, though, is not far from his teenage years in Ketchum, when his parents would wait in the Red Bulls parking lot to pick him up from practice.
As he prepares for what should be a physical test against England, a lesson from his mother from behind seems appropriate for the present.
‘I’ve always said “speak your mind, stand up for yourself, don’t let anyone take advantage of you,'” her mother said.
‘That was my parenting style. Do the right thing, but don’t walk in everything.’