Imagine the following voice on ESPN’s 30-for-30.
“What if I told you the biggest dreams come from the smallest countries? What if I told you refugees could unite an entire campus? What if I told you a game could offer a better life?”
The Ezana Kahsay story sounds hard to believe. After all, no one could possibly overcome so many hurdles in his pursuit of D1 soccer. Didn’t Kahsay receive some sort of advantage along the way?
Well, soccer lives in his blood. His father played professionally in Eritrea, and his uncle played for their national team.
But can you really nitpick on a journey from Africa to Akron by way of Buffalo?
For starters, Eritrea lands between Jeopardy trivia and “Stop making up countries,” on the inherent knowledge scale. A country of over 6 million people, Eritrea nestles next to the Red Sea, in between both Sudan and Ethiopia. The country also faces major international issues, including the deportation of its young men to militarized camps.
Kahsay’s mother had already lost her husband and other son to the camps. Before Ezana could come of age, she left the country. The two, along with Ezana’s sister, made it across the border to a refugee camp in Ethiopia.
They’d stay for the next six years.
According to an article by Jon Scott for Time Warner Cable News in Buffalo, soccer sustained Kahsay in the camps. It offered some sense of normalcy, and gave an escape from day-to-day life. Soccer would again sustain Kahsay during his process from the camp to Buffalo in November of 2009.
After his arrival in the United States, Kahsay began his time at International Prep. The school, a subsidiary of Grover Cleveland High School in Buffalo, NY, contains students who speak over 40 different languages. It offered a chance to transition from life in the camp to his new American home.
Plus, the school offered soccer.
Kahsay dominated on the pitch. He captained the team for four years, leading them to a 63-7-1 record. He also tallied 55 goals and 45 assists at the school. Yet despite his success, he didn’t receive any scholarship offers from universities.
Incredibly, Kahsay decided to bank his future on a soccer camp held at his dream home. At worst, smaller schools could finally scout the 6’2” defender. At best, he would receive a scholarship to these schools, though Akron probably wouldn’t offer one.
After all, Akron stands as soccer royalty.
The Socceroos burst onto the national landscape in the late 2000’s, producing a slew of MLS stars. With current Portland Timbers head coach Caleb Porter at the helm, the squad won the 2010 national championship. Now, the school regularly ascends to the top of the rankings.
What reason would they have to offer a scholarship to an unknown from upstate New York? Kahsay stood at such a long shot, his former high school coach told Time Warner Cable Buffalo that there were no expectations for Kahsay to make the squad. It looked like a sure trip back to Buffalo to pursue other options.
The trip never came.
After two days of camp, the coach called Kahsay into his office and offered him a scholarship. Kahsay signed with Akron, and currently plays defense for the squad.
But the road still lengthens for Kahsay. He has yet to see the field at his new school. However, his eventual appearance will finally add the capper to his inevitable 30-for-30.
“What if I told you a soccer ball could take you from Eritrea to Akron?”