Kristo Strickler was an unproven commodity when he first took the practice field for the Virginia Tech men's soccer team.
As a high school senior, the 2017 St. Charles graduate and Hilliard resident had 19 goals and 14 assists in 23 games and was named first-team all-state, Division I district Player of the Year and an All-American by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America, but it wasn't enough to earn a scholarship with the Hokies.
As a freshman walk-on at Virginia Tech, Strickler quickly caught the attention of the coaching staff and started in 17 of the Hokies' 20 games, recording three goals and one assist. Each of the past two seasons, the midfielder was the team's leading scorer.
"I think (the coaches) were a little surprised with what I could do," said Strickler, who was named ThisWeek Super 12 boys soccer captain as a senior. "When I finished my high school career, once I got All-American accolades, they kind of picked me up on a whim. I guess they were like, 'His stats show he's a pretty good player, so why not give him a try?'"
Hokies coach Mike Brizendine said it didn't take long for Strickler to show off his talent.
"Kristo is a special player and a special person," Brizendine said. "He earned everything through his performance. He came in and kept on doing better and better, and he continued to show his quality. He wasn't a full-time starter right away, but he earned it through practice and more practice and playing well in games.
"He is a great team guy and leader and his work rate is awesome. His intangibles are what sets him apart. He works hard and always has a smile on his face. It's infectious and you really can see how he has an effect on the team."
Stickler's performance as a freshman earned him a scholarship the following year, when he started all 21 games and had a team-high 10 goals and four assists to lead the Hokies with 24 points.
As a junior last fall, Strickler again led Virginia Tech in goals (11) and points (25) and had three assists and was named second-team All-ACC for the second year in a row as the Hokies finished 10-6-3 overall and qualified for their fifth consecutive NCAA tournament. They went 2-5-2 in the ACC-Coastal Division to place fifth behind champion Virginia (6-1-1).
"When I came to Tech, I wasn't getting much playing time," Strickler said. "Around my third game, I played well and started getting more and more (playing) time. I was playing mainly defense.
"You have to know your role and always work hard and keep a positive attitude. I need to come up big in games, score goals and be a playmaker for the team. My goal is to be the example for the younger players."
Strickler is staying in off-campus housing in Blacksburg, Virginia, while sheltering from the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, trying to stay fit for the upcoming season.
"The good thing about being at Tech at this time is I have access to fields and soccer balls," he said. "Five times a week, I will run and lift to maintain a steady curve to get stronger and get ready for the fall. Our strength training coach, Ron Dickson, sent out a weight-training program for us to use. We know if we get ahead now we'll be so far ahead of the other teams."
Brizendine said when Strickler arrived at Virginia Tech, he was a complete player who needed to continue to hone his skills.
"I would probably say Kristo's good at most things," Brizendine said. "Now it's about maintaining his sharpness, but the other players need to do that as well."
Strickler is majoring in human nutrition, foods and exercise science with the goal of attending dental school. Right now, he is focused on his senior season, maintaining faith that there will be a season this coming fall.
"We lost quite a few seniors from last year but have a lot of starters back," he said. "We should be in the running for an ACC title. Hopefully, we have a season this fall. We're pretty excited about it."