From the Newsstands: This story appeared in our December 2021 print edition. You can find the digital version here.
It was a cold winter day on the soccer field, so cold that the players on the field were bundled up with long-sleeved undershirts and gloves. But future Eagle Nicolas Blassou stood out on the pitch to recruiters in his short sleeve jersey and gloves.
These small things can tell a lot about a player. Blassou, now a redshirt senior defender and team captain on the men’s soccer team, showed during that game his calm demeanor on the field and his leadership off it that has become a staple throughout his collegiate career.
“I’ve always been a quiet, calm kid so that’s kind of just how I am,” Blassou said. “I think it’s definitely followed through into who I am as a player. I kind of just try to have fun when I am playing out there.”
Since joining the Eagles, Blassou has been a consistent and stable presence in the backfield. He has started all but one match and regularly plays the whole game. Blassou’s performance during the shortened 2020-21 season also helped to lead the Eagles defense in holding opponents to a stellar 0.331 shot on goal percentage and led the Eagles with 834 minutes played, being an integral part of the team’s NCAA tournament run. His exceptional performance continued into the 2021 season where he again helped lead the Eagles defense to an exceptional 1.17 goals against average, the third best in the Patriot League. The Eagles historic run to the second round of the NCAA tournament was special for Blassou and the team.
“It was a journey for sure,” Blassou said. “It was awesome to be a part of, you could definitely feel the energy every training session. It was from every single person, we were trying to get better and we wanted to win, that was our mentality all season and it paid off.”
Blassou has earned numerous accolades in his time with the Eagles. Earning Second Team All-Patriot League honors during the shortened 2020-21 shortened season, Patriot League Academic Honor Roll, Preseason All-Patriot League honors and First Team All-Patriot League honors during the 2021 season.
Blassou did not start his career at American University, though. Prior to coming to AU, Blassou played three seasons for Conference USA powerhouse the University of Kentucky. UK head coach Johan Cedergren remembered his initial impression of Blassou being a video of that winter game which immediately drew his attention.
“I think that kind of summed up his mentality as a player and as a person,” Cedergren said. “He’s not too concerned about outside factors or whatever. He’s going to go in and do his job.”
Blassou didn’t see much playing time at UK, getting redshirted his freshman year. The 2018 season saw him appear in six matches as the Wildcats made a run to the NCAA Elite 8, but his final season was a breakthrough for him. An injury to center back Leon Jones allowed Blassou to play major minutes, starting 17 matches and playing in 18 as UK went on another NCAA tournament run to the second round.
Cedergren praised Blassou, both for his efforts on the field and him personally.
“He’s a very smart young man,” Cedergren said. “He’s aware of what he is good at and what he’s not good at. He’s very determined.”
Despite playing well and frequently for the Wildcats, Blassou wasn’t guaranteed major minutes on the field with other players coming back from injury. With a taste for being a starter and a desire to play closer to his hometown of Rockville, Maryland, Blassou decided it was time to transfer. However, Blassou has no regrets about his time with the Wildcats.
“I definitely wouldn’t take any of it back, I definitely grew as a player and a person there,” Blassou said. “Sometimes you need to make a change for yourself, to better yourself. I think the biggest thing for me was I kind of needed to push myself individually and get out of my comfort zone.”
Blassou quickly showed up on the radar of the Eagles when he entered the transfer portal. Head coach Zach Samol said he and his coaching staff immediately remembered him from his playing time with the club team Baltimore Celtic, including a run with the club to the 2017 national semifinals, and his performance with Kentucky made Samol emphatic about making Blassou an AU Eagle.
Blassou was a familiar face on the Eagles roster. Graduate forward and fellow team captain Jerry Zouantcha played travel soccer with Blassou when they were around 7-years-old, and the elder Zouantcha played a major role in convincing Blassou to come to American. Blassou said being close to home and a coaching staff who let him play significant minutes were too enticing to pass up.
“My mom can finally come to my games, which she was never able to do at Kentucky,” Blassou said. “It was quick for me to see these [coaches] were serious. They knew what they were doing and really made me believe that they were going to change this program, and they have and are going to continue to do that. I wanted to be a part of that.”
Blassou hasn’t just been a part of that change, he has been one of the major factors driving it. His play in the backfield has helped to drive the Eagles to new heights, yet in his final collegiate season, he knows what he can do to be an even better player.
“I would like to be more consistent as a player,” Blassou said. “I’d like to be more dominant, both in my presence and in my play, doing it consistently and for 90 minutes each game. It’s a hard thing to do, but it’s what the best players can do and that’s what I am aiming for.”