Gunnar Studenhofft is so fast it’s like watching an accelerated replay in motion. Seeing it live is a sight to behold on the soccer field.
“I try to use it as a boost,” said Studenhofft, whose 40-yard dash was once clocked at a 4.27. “It’s something that’s not normal.”
Now in his second season as Manhattan College’s starting center forward, Studenhofft has high expectations for himself. A preseason All-MAAC selection, Studenhofft is coming off a 2022 debut campaign in Riverdale of five goals and an equal number of assists. That helped the Jaspers advance to the semifinals of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference playoffs.
Studenhofft, a native of Cayman Islands, is not taking this new season for granted, just like all the opportunities he has relished in the past. Long before his career with the Jaspers, Studenhofft had to first accept the reality of moving to a new country to chase his dreams.
The move to America happened just in time for Studenhofft’s junior year of high school. He landed at Windermere Prep in southwest Orlando after receiving a recommendation from a close friend. Combining soccer and the warm climate made for the best of both worlds — a symbolic reminder of the life he had always lived.
“Florida felt like home,” Studenhofft said. “I met a lot of great people there who I still keep in touch with to this day.”
Windermere was not the proverbial soccer powerhouse, according to Studenhofft, who set the soccer program’s record with over 30 goals. It provided further reinforcement of his potential, and most of all, a path to college soccer.
“I changed the dynamic of soccer for myself, as well as the program there,” Studenhofft said.
There was interest from college soccer coaches, but not commensurate to what Studenhofft’s speed and talent suggests. He even garnered interest as a football prospect — not as a kicker, which Studenhofft even had a spell as, but as someone who could develop into a wide receiver. After all, Studenhofft knew he had speed along the lines of Olympic sprinters or NFL wide receivers.
Still, it was not soccer. For Studenhofft, nothing rivals soccer, nor does chasing the dream to one day become a professional player in the sport he loves most.
“I didn’t have any knowledge of the game,” Studenhofft says of football. “I stuck to what I was good at and that was soccer.”
Plus, up to that point in time, soccer had already brought him some of his life’s greatest moments. At age 15, Studenhofft traveled to England for a tryout with this year’s European Champions Manchester City. The Under-14 squad was looking to add to their talent base.
The two-week camp there was the most professional environment Studenhofft had encountered — calling it the “best experience” of his life. The easy access to personal chefs, facilities, and the club’s most well-known players provided all the motivation Studenhofft needed to want to get back to that level.
He gathered feedback and went back to the drawing board.
“Being a kid from the Cayman Islands not exposed to that level of soccer made me not fully ready for it,” said Studenhofft, whose favorite team is Tottenham Hotspur F.C. “But I believed from that experience that I could go to the next level.”
Studenhofft has set himself up for success despite a lower exposure he and other prospects from the Cayman Islands typically get. He continued his career for two seasons at Eastern Florida State College on the junior college level, which from day one served as a “gateway” to Division I, according to Studenhofft.
“Junior college is filled with talent,” Studenhofft said. “Many of the players go Division One but just need to get in the door.”
Manhattan head coach Jorden Scott entered the mix for Studenhofft at a crucial time for both sides. The Jaspers were in need of a dynamic talent up top, while Studenhofft sensed the Manhattan staff were chalking up big plans for him.
“I want to do my best everyday to show them I care, that I love the program, and to improve my overall scoring,” Studenhofft said, alluding to scoring goals as the “job” he was brought in for.
A former assistant coach made visits to Studenhofft down South before he ultimately committed. In Studenhofft, the Jaspers had their man and someone they felt was flying under the radar, especially after Studenhofft went down with a concussion late in his stay at Eastern Florida.
“He only played in about five or six games,” Scott says of the injury concerns at the time. “Because of that no one had really seen too much of him.”
Studenhofft enrolled early at Manhattan for the semester starting in Spring 2022. The initial reps in training were crucial for allowing Scott to better understand where Studenhofft stood on the cusp of his first season in Division I.
It is still a work in progress, but the project continues.
“He’s got so much speed that at times it is hard to control,” Scott said. “The ball never moves faster than him.”
Studenhofft has already shown a flair for the spectacular, too. Last season, he came up clutch with the game-winning goal in the 19th minute of a 2-0 win over Fairfield in the MAAC Quarterfinals. The other goal came from his assist.
‘That wouldn’t have happened without my teammates’ movements and quick decisions,” Studenhofft said. “It was a memorable moment for me.”
He is well-equipped on the big stage after getting a chance with the Cayman Islands National Team. His call-up to the senior squad last March saw him notch the team’s lone goal in a 5-1 loss to Puerto Rico in CONCACAF Nations League play. The opportunities with the national team should come more regularly, Studenhofft says, especially with World Cup qualifying games nearing.
“Sometimes he puts too much pressure on himself,” Scott said “But I think all great athletes do that … it’s how you manage that pressure that is the key thing.”
Studenhofft has already noticed the adjustments opposing defenses have made.
He knows he will need to adapt to best utilize his speed for a Manhattan program looking to hoist their first ever MAAC Championship come November.
If he can help to do that, then an opportunity in Major League Soccer or overseas may come beckoning.
“My plan after college is to go professional and I think Jorden and this program have given me everything to do that. I’m just trusting the process,” he said.