UNIVERSITY PARK — Unlike a lot of Penn State seniors, Julian Cardona doesnt react to the dreaded What do you want to do after graduation? question with a frantic, deer-in-the-headlights look.
He answers with a cool and confident I want to play soccer.
The Penn State mens soccer player said thats an answer hes always known.
A native of Lincoln, Neb., Cardona grew up in a family of athletes. His older brother, Rene III, played baseball at Nebraska Wesleyan University, and his older sister, Alexa, played soccer at the University of Nebraska.
Cardona gave baseball a shot his freshmen year of high school, but quickly realized that soccer was his true passion and that he wouldnt be following in his brothers footsteps. The real family competition is between him and his sister.
Our seasons were at the same time, so in high school, Alexa and I would always compete to see who would have a better game or who would score more goals, said Cardona. I usually won.
After two years at Pius X High School in Lincoln, Cardona attended Shattuck-St. Mary's High School in
Faribault, Minn., for his junior and senior years. Shattuck- St. Marys is a private boarding school known for its Center of Excellence hockey, soccer, and figure skating programs, and includes such alumni Brent Musburger, Sidney Crosby, and Bud Wilkinson.
There, Cardona sharpened his skills, played soccer every day, and signed his letter of intent to attend Butler University.
Cardona chose to play soccer at Butler for many reasons the campus, the players, and the impressive coaching staff to name a few.
It seemed like it was a perfect fit, Cardona said. When I went on my official visit, the coach was great. I really liked his philosophy on soccer and the way he managed the team.
Cardona said his experience at Butler was incredible. He was named the Horizon League Newcomer of the Year in 2009, starting in 14 games and leading the conference in freshmen scoring.
As a sophomore, Cardona and his team went 16-1-3, 7-0 in the Horizon League, and earned the No. 13 seed in the NCAA Championship tournament.
Butlers undefeated success that season opened new doors for members of the coaching staff. A few left to accept job offers at North Carolina State. Realizing that his junior year would be a rebuilding year key players were graduating and new coaches were named Cardona decided that the best way to further his career would be to look at other schools.
It was one of the hardest decisions Ive ever had to make, said Cardona. I knew it was going to be a transition year, the core group had left. I wanted to give myself the best chance to play in the best environment I could, so I left.
Cardona had never been to Penn State before 2011, but he had known coach Bob Warming on a personal level for a while. So after a few conversations with Warming and an official visit, the former Butler Bulldog became a Penn State Nittany Lion.
In the fall of 2011, Cardona made the wear and tear of transferring look easy. Academically, the ggricultural business major was named to the deans list both fall and spring semesters, and socially, he adapted to the Penn State way-of-life quickly.
Athletically, last season, Cardona started 17 out of his 18 active games, finishing with four goals and two assists. In October, he was even called to play on the Puerto Rican National Team, competing in a World Cup qualifying game and earning a starting spot against St. Kitts on October 7.
Coming into a new team, I knew that I would have to prove myself and show that I could play, said Cardona. Transferring to Penn State was the best decision I could have made. Im going to make the most of this opportunity.
Cardona is off to a solid start this season, starting six out of seven games, and leading the team in scoring with five goals and one assist.
Penn State Mens Soccer, 5-1-1 takes on Wisconsin in Madison on Friday for their first Big Ten Conference match of the season -an extra-special game for Cardona with his family in attendance.
The team has been practicing and preparing hard for Wisconsin all week, and Cardona has high hopes for Friday and the rest of the season.
Were dangerous, Cardona said. Wisconsin is going to be a good test, but we have some great team chemistry. Were going to go there, and we want to come home with a win.