July 7, 2010

Machael David: A Great Example

July 7, 2010

To become a Division I student-athlete, it takes copious amounts of hard work, drive, persistence and also the ability to succeed in the face of adversity. Many of UC Santa Barbara's athletes have had to overcome significant obstacles on their journeys to becoming a Gaucho, but few have overcome as many as men's soccer standout Machael David.

David was born in Nigeria in 1988. To say his beginnings were humble is an understatement. His father earned meager wages as a bus driver and his mother stayed at home because her lack of education made finding employment a struggle.

David's family could not afford to send him to school, so he spent his days going street to street playing soccer. In Nigeria, children that did not attend school during the day and hung out in the streets were often categorized as criminals or gang members. According to David, "nobody trusts a street kid."

At the age of 12, his father passed away. Without his father's income, David and his mother were forced to move into the guesthouse of a local church. Despite his relocation, David continued to play soccer, walking miles each day to and from practice.

Unlike most American kids though, there was not an orange slice or juice box waiting for him at the end of each game. He would often return home after a day of playing to no dinner, forced to go to bed on an empty stomach. Sometimes, he and a group of friends that called themselves "The Musicians," would take to the streets at night and sing African songs and dance in exchange for food.

At age 14, the course of David's life was altered when he was offered the chance to play on a team in Italy.

David jumped at the opportunity to leave Africa and live abroad, but quickly "a dream come true" turned into more of the same. Despite some improved amenities, David felt as if his life in Italy was a very small improvement upon the one he lived in Africa. He still was not receiving an education and he felt that his opportunities were limited in Italy.

While in Milan, David often joked with friends about moving to America to pursue an education. After three years in Milan, the 17 year-old finally decided to give up playing soccer and take a risk by moving to America, a country where he did not know a soul.

Because his own documents had expired, David used a forged British passport and flew into JFK in New York. His inability to speak English automatically threw a hitch in his plan when he was unable to fill out the customs documents on the plane and he was immediately detained by customs once he arrived on American soil.

Coming to the U.S. in the post-9/11 era with a forged passport and the inability to speak English was a bold move to put it mildly. After being detained and handcuffed in customs, David was finally able to tell his story to someone who spoke Italian. He pleaded his case, explaining that he was "coming to look for help and the opportunity to become something in life. I can't go back to my country, that's the last thing I want to do. Please help me!"

After eight hours in the airport, he was taken to a group home in Queens where other underage immigrants resided. It was at that group home that David began to receive his first formal education and started to learn English. It was also there that he made the life-altering decision to convert to Christianity after being raised Muslim.

It was just three months later that David found a lawyer and then a foster family in Tacoma, Washington, which he considers a "big miracle," considering the minimum that most people would be at the group home was six months. Another miracle happened when, just weeks before he turned 18, David's lawyer successfully appealed for him to receive asylum, allowing him to freely live in the U.S.

It was then, at age 18, that Machael David became a high school freshman. Not long after enrolling David was recruited to play soccer on his high school team. He was resistant at first because he didn't want soccer to interfere with his education, but eventually after a year and a half hiatus from the sport, he took to the pitch again.

David's talent was quickly noticed by college coaches from around the country and while playing in a Premier Development League match in Fresno with former Gaucho Ciaran O'Brien, he was noticed by the UCSB assistant coach Greg Wilson.

Despite interest by several schools, it was not an easy path for David to get into college. With just a few years of formal education under his belt, his GPA and SAT scores were dismal, causing most coaching staffs to give up on recruiting him. For a while, David gave up on the prospect of playing college soccer and even attending college, as he dropped out of high school and enrolled in a GED program.

His break from high school did not last long though. His high school counselors persuaded him to re-enroll and assisted in getting him extra classes and help so that he could graduate. David would wake up at 5 or 6 a.m. every morning to go to school and stay until 5 p.m. as he took extra classes in order to graduate. After two and a half years of high school, David graduated with a 3.8 GPA.

For their part, Gaucho coaches Greg Wilson and Tim Vom Steeg battled to get David into school at UCSB and in the fall of 2008, he enrolled as a freshman. Unfortunately, his struggles were not over.

Due to his abbreviated high school education, David had not completed enough core classes to be eligible through the NCAA, so he was forced to sit out his first season at UCSB. The setback caused him to become frustrated and depressed; feeling as if everything he had gone through was for nothing.

After sitting out a redshirt year and becoming a familiar face in the Intercollegiate Athletics Building's Study Center, David was finally cleared to play for the 2009 season.

He made an immediate impact, starting 23 of 24 matches for the Gauchos. He scored one goal and dished out four assists and was named the Big West Freshman of the Year, Second Team All-Big West, Soccer America All-Freshman Second Team, Goal.com Freshman Team and TopDrawerSoccer.com All-Rookie First Team.

Even more impressively, David was the only men's soccer player named to the Big West All-Academic team and was selected as his team's Golden Eagle Award Winner for his academic success.

Reflecting on all of his current success, David does not take any of it for granted and is very aware that he couldn't have achieved this all on his own.

"When I think that today I am a junior in college, it makes me really appreciate my high school counselors and those who were behind me who thought I could make it," David said. "If I didn't have them, I wouldn't be here. Here I am today in Santa Barbara after all of these obstacles."

He is also reminded of what his life could have been, knowing that most of his friends back in Nigeria are now drug dealers, criminals or have already died.

"I try not to take things for granted," David said. "I am living the American dream. My friends envy me, that I came here not knowing anyone and took a risk. I am just grateful to be here and grateful to have this opportunity, to be in America. America is the place everyone in my country wants to be, the place everyone wants to live."

After spending most of his life just trying to get by, he still feels as if he is working to survive. He says he doesn't worry about making plans for the future.

"Growing up as a child there was no plan for me. I just live my life and try to accomplish everything everyday that comes to me instead of sitting and making a plan," David said. "Most people will see that as a negative thing, but for me it is what has brought me so far in life. Expectation is something I never put my hopes on, because if you expect something and it doesn't happen, it breaks my heart. I'd rather live my life every day and do my best every day."

Though he claims to be present-minded, there is one thing that David is looking forward to in the future: the 2010 College Cup.

"The fact that we have the College Cup coming up is another blessing for me," David said.

Perhaps the next part of this Nigerian's American dream will be a national championship.

David recently took the time to answer some questions about himself.

1. What are your favorite things to do when you're not playing soccer?
"Play video games, listen to music, watch movies and go on dates."

2. If you were on a deserted island and could only bring three things, what would they be?
"The Bible, my mom and a soccer ball."

3. What is your favorite class you've taken at UCSB?
"Theater 2."

4. Do you have any role models?
"Denzel Washington, he's unbelievable. He is a public figure that never has family problems and he is unbelievably humble. Also, Kaka, he didn't kiss his girlfriend until he was married."

5. What is the best part about waking up in Santa Barbara every day?
"The weather and the culture."

6. What is your favorite TV show?
"Entourage, Hung, True Blood, America's Got Talent, Gossip Girl, and The Hills."

7. What will you miss most about life at UCSB after you graduate?
"The whole Athletic Department - the whole staff - and my professors. I have met unbelievable people here."

8. What actor would play you in a movie about your life?
"Denzel Washington."

9. What is your favorite professional sports team?
"Barcelona, the Celtics and the Colts."

10. What is your favorite movie?
"Troy, Gladiator, The Notebook, and August Rush."

11. If a book were written about your life, what would be the title?
"That has yet to be determined."

12. Do you have any pre-game rituals?
"I read The Bible - Psalm 91 and Psalm 23 - and sing African songs and to myself."

13. What is your favorite spot on campus?
"The Arbor, so I can see the beauty of American ladies."

14. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
"Milan, Italy."

15. What is your favorite UCSB sport to watch (besides your own)?
"Men's basketball, I love them."

16. Who is your favorite author? Favorite book?
"Into the Wild" by Jon Krakauer

17. What is one thing about you that most people do not know?
"I am shy."

18. Is there a motto that you live by?
"The beginning of tomorrow starts today. Whatever I do today will effect my tomorrow."

19. In one word, how would you describe UCSB men's soccer?
"Celtics. As in we are the Celtics of soccer."

20. What is your main goal for the 2010 season?
"To win the College Cup."

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To nominate a student-athlete to be featured as A Great Example, contact Lisa Skvarla at lisa.skvarla@athletics.ucsb.edu.