A Road Less Traveled to Duke

Student-athlete Daniele Proch embraced the unexpected in leaving Italy to come to Durham

Daniele Proch with teammates on the soccer field
Duke offered Italian soccer player Daniele Proch opportunities he wouldn't have had at home. "Duke opened up a new world for me."

Since he was old enough to kick a ball, Daniele Proch has had his heart set on a career in soccer. But when his direct route to the pro leagues took a detour, Proch embraced the unexpected and seized the chance to take a different path – one that led him to Duke, and gave him a backup plan for once his professional soccer-playing days are over.

“Duke opened up a new world for me,” said the history major, who graduates in December.

Proch grew up in Riva Del Garda, a small town in northern Italy, where he started playing soccer at age 3 and dreamed of going pro. He got a spot at the academy for a professional team in Italy’s third tier, but it didn’t lead to a contract. A cousin suggested he apply for a soccer scholarship in the U.S.

“I didn’t know how to do that,” Proch said. But with some help, he landed a spot at Catawba College in western North Carolina. In August 2016, he flew to Charlotte without a phone that worked in the U.S., nor any idea what the coach who was picking him up even looked like.

“I left without knowing anything,” he said.

Proch’s skill on the field stood out at Catawba and his teammates encouraged him to apply to a Division I program.

“I had no idea how any of it worked,” Proch said. But still, he made contacts, and got an enthusiastic response from Duke, transferring to Durham in August 2017.

His three years on the field at Duke have him hoping to be picked up in the Major League Soccer draft in January. But regardless of how long his soccer career lasts, Proch said Duke has given him the tools for what comes after that.

“The relationships with the professors here, hanging out with them, texting them – back home that’s something students don’t have.”
-- Daniele Proch

“I didn’t know what I wanted to major in,” he said, “but I knew I wanted to be a journalist.”

Professors at the DeWitt Center for Media and Democracy helped set him on that path. Philip Bennett helped Proch secure a summer internship with Eight by Eight sports magazine in 2018. Then in 2019 Mark Stencel and Bill Adair – founder of Politifact – connected him with Pagella Politica, a fact-checking organization in Italy, for the summer.

Proch also found himself a regular guest on a local call-in radio show back in Italy. The show was hosted by a friend who was fascinated by Proch’s experiences as a foreign student in America. He shared comic dispatches from an NFL game, about Duke basketball (“They were surprised when I told them how big college sports are here”) and from his own ups and downs on the soccer field.

So many of Proch’s experiences were as new to him as they were to the audience back in Italy.

“The relationships with the professors here, hanging out with them, texting them – back home that’s something students don’t have,” he said.

Proch said his time at Duke has widened his perspective in ways he doubts would have happened if he hadn’t studied here.

“If I look back, I realize how closed minded I was,” he said. “Duke has taught me how to think critically.”

And while his spell at a soccer academy in Italy didn’t lead to the professional contract he craved, Proch said he regrets nothing.

“This is where life has taken me,” he said, “and I’m making the most out of all these chances.”