Kennedy Fuller is in a hurry.
Over the past year, the U.S. Under-17 Women’s National Team midfielder has managed to graduate from high school in just two and half years, train with four NWSL teams and one European club and lead her team into the 2024 Concacaf Women’s U-17 Championship in Mexico.
And she’s ready for more.
Fuller, who hails from Southlake, Texas, outside of Dallas, where high school football is king, is carving out her own path on the fútbol field.
In many ways, she’s just like a lot of 16-year-olds, goofing around with her teammates and having fun off the field, but she carries herself with the quiet intensity and seriousness of a much older player, one with life goals to achieve and boxes to check along the way.
“My close friends know that everything I do, I do it for a reason and that the things I choose to focus on are super important to me,” she says. “My end goal is to be the best person and soccer player I can be. I don’t know where that’s going to take me, but if it means sacrificing a year of high school, missing parties and things like that, if that path better enables me to reach my potential, I would much rather go that way.”
How does one graduate from high school in two and half years? Answer: Hard work, focus, and a lot of online classes. In this new era of elite women’s youth soccer players, Fuller never planned to stay in high school longer than three years anyway.
In September of 2022, at the beginning her sophomore year at Southlake Carroll High School she reclassified – like many elite boys’ basketball and football athletes of late -- with the goal of enrolling in college early. From there, it was a matter of getting enough credits to receive her diploma, and she pursued that task with the same fervor with which she chases the soccer ball around the pitch.
Fuller had a busy fall last year. With online classes via Texas Tech proving fruitful, she decided to unenroll from high school in August of 2023, which was the start of her third year at SCHS. She spent three weeks in November and December 2023 training with the Chelsea FC women – under the tutelage of newly announced USWNT head coach Emma Hayes - which she calls one of the best experiences of her young career.
“It was so much fun,” she says of her time in London. “Everyone there just loves soccer. They are born into it. All the players were nice, positive and encouraging, and they went out of their way to learn my name and introduce themselves. The training was at such a high level. They really like to share the ball and work for each other, and I just really appreciated the opportunity.”
Once she got back home, she reenrolled in high school so she could officially graduate, which she did, and that left her in a markedly different situation from the rest of her teammates on the USA’s U-17 World Cup qualifying squad: No classes = no homework.
That gives her much more downtime on the road as well as excused absences from the daily team study halls. That also means she needs to find ways to fill the time.
“Honestly, maybe it seems like a high school student’s dream, but it’s hard,” she admitted. “Being a student-athlete for so many years, you feel like you always need to be doing something, it’s ingrained in you. Now, I know it’s super important to find hobbies and things that stimulate my brain and spend even more time building relationships with my teammates. If all you do is soccer, I think you’re going to be lonely, so you need to find things outside of soccer that will make you happy.”
There are two things she still wants to accomplish from high school: attend her prom and walk the stage during graduation. She’s going to try to do both.
“Prom and graduation are sort of two things you can’t get back,” she said. “Education is important to my family, and although they know soccer is my dream, I want them to see me walk the stage.”
Those are mature takes from a young woman who will soon leave the distinctive outline of the Lone Star State behind. But she’s already set off on her soccer walkabout.
About a year ago, she trained for a few weeks with the Washington Spirit. In the summer between sophomore and junior/final year of high school, she had training stints with both the Kansas City Current and San Diego Wave FC.
From August through October of 2023, during the time she was unenrolled and exclusively taking online classes, she trained with the North Carolina Courage.
After the 2024 Concacaf Women’s U-17 Championship, she’ll head to Los Angeles for a training stint with Angel City FC. She still hasn’t decided on her next career step – college at the University of North Carolina or perhaps the leap to the pro game – but she knows that she’s done her homework, at least the soccer kind.
Her current lifestyle might seem a lot for such a young player, but fear not: Fuller is not stressing, she’s thriving.
“I like pressure, I really do,” she said. “I like challenging myself. For me, it’s not draining at all. It’s energizing. With pressure comes responsibility, and I think pressure also reminds you that you have worked so hard and you’ve done everything you can. If you fail, you have to have the mental toughness to get up and go again, but if you put in the work, hopefully you’re going to succeed a lot more.”
Fuller credits her family for helping shape her mentality. Her mom, Kim, played soccer growing up and coaches volleyball, track and soccer. Her dad, Kris, coaches basketball and football. Her younger sister, Kamdyn, plays for her club, Solar FC, and her younger brother, Kolton, is a 10-year-old aspiring football player. (Yes, all of their names start with K).
“Ever since I can remember, we’ve been a competitive family, and I’ve never known anything else,” said Fuller, who calls Kamdyn, 18 months her junior, her ‘best friend and best frenemy.’ “I think it has made me a better person and definitely a better player. I don’t think you should ever accept losing. Will you lose sometimes? Of course. But you can always learn something from losing.”
It’s easy to spot Fuller on the field. First, because of the power she brings to the game. She’s a creative, hustling attacking midfielder with smooth skills, the ability to strike the ball with both feet and impact the game all over the field. She also scores goals at an impressive clip for a number 10.
She’s also easily identifiable due to her distinctive “game hair.” It’s a ‘do that can be best described as “Gwen Stefani/Olivia Rodrigo double-buns meets women’s soccer.”
Fuller calls them her “Warrior Buns.”
“I’ve worn them every game since I was eight,” she said. “I never wear them in training. When I put them in, it’s game time. I don’t really have superstitions, but the buns are definitely a big part of my game day rhythm.”The buns made their international debut at the 2022 Concacaf U-15 Girls’ Championship in Florida, where Fuller was dominant, scoring nine goals over five games and was awarded with the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player. She’s hoping to replicate that success in Mexico, and she’s off to a great start – scoring five goals in the USA’s first match against Panama -- but she knows with a step up in level, it only gets more difficult. Still, she feels confident because of her training mentality.
“When I get into a game, I’ve done everything that I do in a game 20, 50, 100 other times in training,” she said. “The game is time to have fun. It’s not a mental burden, it’s just trying to execute what you’ve learned in training.”
The USA’s run at the U-15 Concacaf tournament gave her a taste of international success. And once you’ve had a taste of that, it can be addicting. Consider Fuller hooked.
“The U-15s were a good first step for this team and for me,” she said. “I performed well at Concacaf, mostly thanks to my team, but nothing is ever given. We have to earn everything, every single time we step on the field. But I think that tournament was definitely a motivator and a stepping-stone. If we can perform well at the U-15 level, maybe we can take that to the 17s. And if we do well here, who knows what is in our futures? It’s really exciting.”
Fuller is one of the vocal leaders of the U.S. team and understands the power of 21 individuals moving through their soccer journey together.“I love the supportiveness of this group,” she said. “At the end of the day we are a team, we need to celebrate each other’s wins and comfort each other in our setbacks. We’ve started to do a really good job of that. We need to be each other’s hype women. So many people really want to beat us, so having our tight circle is important. We’re here for each other. And we’re gonna have fun.”