One of the first things Kyle Dezotell did after he was hired as the head coach of the Tufts University men’s soccer team was to watch game film of the team. He wanted to see what players were returning, and what improvements might need to be made.
He already knew that the Jumbos were well represented at center midfield, where Calvin Aroh was coming back for his senior season. Aroh had starred for Tufts’ back-to-back NCAA Championship teams in 2018 and 2019. He scored the first goal when the Jumbos defeated Calvin 2-1 in the 2018 final. Then he was voted Most Outstanding Defensive Player of the 2019 “Final Four” which Tufts capped with a 2-0 victory over rival Amherst College.
Aroh was considered one of the top recruits in team history when he joined the Jumbos in 2017. At 6’3” and 200 pounds, his combination of size and skill is rare at the Division III level.
The film confirmed it.
“I’d heard so much about this player Calvin Aroh and how he was probably the best player at his position in Division III college soccer,” said Dezotell, who was hired at Tufts in March 2020. “That was evident from day one of starting to watch film. He’s just a dominant player. Physically dominant, but also I don’t know that his technical ability gets enough credit. Sometimes with bigger guys people just talk about the physicality, but Calvin is one of our best technical soccer players as well.”
Though the 2020 fall season was canceled due to coronavirus, leading many of his teammates to take the semester off, Aroh is at Tufts practicing with the team and continuing his studies as an economics major. He will be taking the spring semester off and returning next fall for a final season of what has already been an outstanding career at Tufts.
From Glastonbury, Connecticut, Aroh played for the New England Revolution Academy program throughout high school. During this time his talent also caught the eye of U.S. National Team development coaches. He was invited to take five trips with U.S. youth teams, including internationally to the Netherlands and Sweden. Those experiences assured him of his ability to play the game at a high level.
“A lot of the kids that we played against are pro now,” Aroh said. “In the beginning it was a little bit hard to break into that. There were times when I didn’t feel like I was holding my own. Then when I was there longer I felt like, ok, I can do this. I can play at this level.”
Though he loved the sport, it had consumed a lot of his time in high school. He didn’t necessarily want his college experience to be all about soccer. He wanted more balance and to be on a campus where he could be invested in the school as well. He found that at Tufts.
“His profile was to be a Division I player, and I think he could have chosen to do that if he wanted to, but I think he felt that the mix of what Tufts offered him was the right fit,” said Josh Shapiro, who recruited Aroh to Tufts. “We were obviously thrilled that’s how he felt.”
Shapiro coached Tufts to four NCAA Championships before leaving to take the head job at Harvard. Along with building the Jumbos into the preeminent DIII program in the nation, he also brought together guys who developed a tight-knit team culture. That, along with Tufts’ academic excellence and its location just 90 minutes from his home, was how the Jumbos landed Aroh.
“When I came to Tufts, I met a bunch of the players and they showed me around and helped me out,” Aroh said. “On other visits I didn’t necessarily meet the team like I had met them here.”
Despite coming in with international experience, Aroh quickly learned that playing in the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) was different.
“It was a lot more physical,” Aroh said. “You go from club to college, club is a lot more keeping your distance, passing, moving it around, whereas now it’s tackling hard and laying into opponents. That was a little bit of a wake-up call freshman year.”
The need for communication on the field and focusing on defensive play were other adjustments he had to make. As a freshman he played all 21 games for a Tufts team that allowed just two goals total. However, the Jumbos suffered a disappointing 1-0 loss to Brandeis in the “Elite 8” at home on Bello Field.
Tufts responded with an undefeated (18-0-3) season in 2018 that culminated with the 2-1 win over Calvin for the national championship. Aroh started every game and scored what he considers the biggest goal of his career to give the Jumbos an early lead against Calvin. Then in 2019 Tufts won both the NCAA and NESCAC titles while setting a school record with 20 victories. Aroh was recognized as NESCAC All-Conference, United Soccer Coaches All-Region and D3soccer All-American.
He said celebrating with his parents Chris and Kim is his most cherished memory from winning the championships. Their dedication to his soccer career had provided the opportunity for him to be part of this incredible accomplishment.
“The first time was the pinnacle of everything that I’d done,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing that I’d won, and I think for a lot of us it was. To do it two times in three years, and especially back-to-back is obviously really special.”
Named a captain of the 2020 team this fall, Aroh is paying it forward as a leader of the Jumbos. His maturity as a player was aided greatly by the leaders before him who established inclusiveness throughout the team regardless of class year. At practice, he’s vocal when he needs to be and sets a great example.
“You just watch him, and he’s so good and he does everything at such a high level, but he’s so humble ,” Dezotell said. “He’s a great model for the guys to emulate, certainly the younger guys and we have a ton of younger guys this semester.”
Despite not playing games, Aroh and his teammates are grateful for the opportunities that they have had to be together on Bello Field this fall. He has friends from club whose college teams are not practicing at all. Tufts has been training three times a week since mid-September, with a primary goal of indoctrinating the freshmen to the Jumbo way of doing things.
It has also been a good way for the team to get to know their new coach. Dezotell, who came to Tufts after three seasons at Ithaca College, receives high marks from his new team. Aroh also said an increase in assistant coaches this year has been helpful.
“Coach Dez has been really good and we like him a lot,” Aroh said. “The practices have been really, really fun. The bigger staff with three assistant coaches provides a lot of different opinions and sides of things. Everyone loves it.”
Aroh spent part of the spring 2020 semester studying abroad in Seville, Spain and said his adjustment to online learning has gone well. Right now he’s working on finding something to do during the spring when he’s not in school.
For the future, he mentioned putting his economics degree to work for an incubator - organizations geared toward speeding up the growth and success of startup and early stage companies - particularly in the environmental field which he is passionate about. There’s also the possibility of playing professionally.
“I think maybe there’s three to five players in Division III soccer in a given year that could go on to play at a pretty decent level and he is certainly in that category,” Dezotell said. “It’s a tough question for any of these guys who attend such amazing universities like Tufts. Does he want to try to play professionally for a few years while he’s young and capable, or does he want to go on to grad school or go get an amazing job straight out of college?”
Those are the options Aroh has earned with his athletic and academic success at Tufts.
“The pro soccer thing, I would look at, but I’m not totally sold upon,” he said. “I feel like maybe Tufts has been a good way to end on a high note. Win some national championships and enter the real world.”
First things first though. Aroh will be back at Tufts in fall 2021 for one more run with the team at NESCAC and NCAA titles. His experiences with his Jumbo teammates on and off the field influenced that decision.
“Once everyone said they were coming back for next fall, I was like, alright, I really want to come back now,” he said. “I don’t want to miss out.”