Nic Zuniga admits he was anxious about joining the prestigious UConn men's soccer team, which won the 2000 NCAA title and is currently undefeated and ranked No. 2 in the country. But it didn't take long for the former Norwalk High School standout to feel comfortable in his new environment.
"There was a little bit of pressure coming in, but the team made me feel like I have been here for a while. They're very welcoming," Zuniga said of the Huskies, who are 5-0-1 on the season.
Last year Zuniga led Norwalk to the FCIAC's best record (13-1-2) for the second straight year, and the Bears reached the state semifinals for the first time since 2004. He had 17 goals and 10 assists and was named to the all-New England, all-state and all-FCIAC teams.
He played forward for Norwalk last season, after playing defense the year before. It was this versatility that helped attract the attention of UConn, he says.
At UConn he is playing right wing. And while he's not starting, he has played in four games and is averaging 15-20 minutes of play. So far he has one shot on goal, though no scores or assists.
The speed of the college game is much faster than high school, Zuniga said.
"It's definitely a lot faster and a lot more physical. I'm still trying to get used to it, but I'll get there."
Transitioning from the star of Norwalk to a backup role player with UConn has been an adjustment, Zuniga said, but one he was prepared to make.
"I know later I will get my time. I know for now what is best for the team works best for me."
Beyond his adjustment to the college game, he has also had to adjust to college life in general. The Huskies are either practicing or playing a game six days a week, and Zuniga's daily schedule is regimented.
"We have a mandatory study hall and it really helps because it's two hours of just studying and it really helps with school and how to manage all that stuff," said Zuniga, who plans to major in finance.
Meanwhile he's still finding time to enjoy some of the regular perks of college life.
"It's different, but it's a good different," he said. "I like it a lot. The team, we always hang out. They make me feel like I belong here. I have no regrets in coming here. It's a great school. My professors all seem cool, and the people here are just friendly and kind."