Immersion through soccer

A family moves from Tanzania to New York City in search of a better opportunity. They settle in New York City and then Boston where they could be closer to their extended family. It may sound like the cliché American dream, but it’s the early life of Hamid Shariff, ’15.

Shariff was born in Saudi Arabia before moving to Tanzania, the birth country of both of his parents, at just 1 year old. The next two destinations would be across the pond on the other side of the world in the United States. Through all of the family’s travels, one thing always remained: soccer.

Hussein, Shariff’s father, played professionally throughout the Middle East growing up. His career was cut short due to injury but he remained connected to the game through supporting local teams. The family eventually relocated to Ohio, where they settled in the Columbus area, as his father continued to search for work in the United States.

“Travel soccer is expensive,” Shariff explained. “I played on local YMCA teams scoring 5 or 10 goals a game.” Obviously a skill set or two above the competition, he was noticed by the head coach of Hilliard (Ohio) F.C. Robert Cozzarelli. Cozzarelli helped Shariff get situated with new equipment and helped fund the expenses for travel soccer. Playing against a higher level of competition on his new travel soccer team, Sharrif started to find more opportunities.

While taking part in the Crew Academy in Columbus, he also played with Blast F.C. Soccer Academy, another successful Columbus-based club soccer team. Playing against a higher level of competition, Shariff traveled the country for tournaments with Blast F.C. With his new opportunity, he was thriving on the soccer field.

At Centennial High School in Columbus, he helped the Stars win their first city championship in 14 years. Shariff continued to play through his senior year without much preference as to where he would attend college. “I didn’t send out any videos or promote myself much,” he said. “I was really just waiting for schools to come to me.”

With Shariff’s improving play and city championship under his belt, he was selected to play in an all-star game. It was there he would first meet Dr. Brian Haley, professor of education and history but more importantly, the 'Berg men’s soccer coach at the time. “He (Dr. Haley) really sold me. Being from England, he had connections and options in the professional world of soccer and that was my dream.” With Heidelberg showing the most interest in him, Shariff became a Student Prince.

As if the adjustment from high school to college wasn’t enough, the adjustment from championship team to 3-11-4 team was also a lot to handle. “It’s a big change, the rebuilding period,” Shariff recalled. “A lot of guys didn’t stick around through the rebuild.” The team would go on to win 10 games in both 2012 and 2013.

In 2014, Haley’s last year as coach, Heidelberg defeated John Carroll 5-4 to secure their first OAC Championship ever. Shariff recorded a goal in the 27th minute to take a lead that Heidelberg would never give back. “Coach Haley is one of the best coaches I’ve ever had,” Shariff said. “He formed a family and it made a difference. It motivated incoming players and pushed some of us to become leaders. I’m glad I stuck through it.”

After graduating, Shariff trained in Dubai, United Arab Emirates for several months before coming back to the United States. At a three-day combine in Tennessee, Shariff was recruited by F.C. Wichita of the National Premier Soccer league. He signed his first professional contract with F.C. Wichita in April 2016. “Playing in Wichita was a good learning experience,” Shariff said. After playing the entire season there, he decided to explore other options, which would send him home to the other side of the world again, this time to Spain.

Through connections, he would find his way to C.D. Sariñena, located in Aragon of Spain. It didn’t take long for the excitement to kick in as the locals “live and breathe soccer,” according to Shariff. However, living in a Spanish-speaking country proved to be difficult at first. “The first few months were tough to communicate and stay in contact with everyone,” he said. Today, he continues to immerse himself in the culture and takes Spanish courses daily.

Through all of his travels his appreciation of his alma mater has not diminished. Shariff still remains in touch with Heidelberg faculty and staff, including Haley, and watches the soccer games whenever his busy schedule allows. “I grew so much (at Heidelberg) with the help of Dr. Haley and all of my professors. I had an opportunity to do so much there. I’m glad I went to a smaller school.”

Published in Spring 18

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