Cavalier Corner

October 2017

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22 CAVALIER CORNER BY MIKE SCANDURA W HEN THIRD-YEAR for- ward Edward Opoku was a youngster in the village of Odumase, Ghana, he loved playing soccer but never thought the sport would lead him to a college in the United States. Now, the UVA standout is one of 31 players named to the preseason watch list for the MAC Herman Trophy — an award that's presented to the nation's best college soccer player. "Being in my village was very tough," Opoku said. "Soccer was important to me and was an everyday part of my life. I could play soccer the whole day and not think about anything else. "Soccer definitely saved my life — instead of being like some of my friends who dropped out of school and got into a bad life. Soccer kept me out of that pack." Opoku, who freely admits he didn't have a formal education until he was 10, reached a turning point in his life when he was accepted to the Right to Dream Academy in Accra, the capital of Ghana. Right to Dream is a residential acad- emy that takes in young boys, puts them in schools, and gives them discipline, food and soccer training. The academy was founded by former Manchester United scout Tom Vernon. It offers full scholarships to its athletes, and helps them earn a degree and perhaps a chance to play professionally. "They take unprivileged kids and edu- cate you," Opoku said. "They make sure you have what it takes for them to give you a scholarship. When they had try- outs, I was the only one from Odumase who got picked from about 300. "During the time you spend at Right to Dream, they give you a character test to see how you are as a person. I'm from a family of eight, and only two of my sib- lings got an education. "Right to Dream gave me a one-on-one teacher. I started with English and then got four years of a great education [at Millbrook School in Rye, N.Y., where Opoku holds the school records with 85 goals and 115 points]." Cavaliers head coach George Gelno- vatch doesn't mince words when discuss- ing the importance of Opoku's attending Right to Dream. "I don't know if he would be here — period," Gelnovatch said. "He demon- strated the ability to play soccer, but also discipline and character. That academy doesn't take in guys who have a history of problems. He's an example of a guy who's had a rough life and somehow along the line kept himself focused. "Once he was put in an environment in high school and here I think his true colors are pouring out of every pore in his body. Virginia and the high school he came from have brought out the best in him." Besides being able to play soccer in Europe, Opoku was able to ease the bur- den on his mother (Regina Nkansah). "That was turning point of my life," he said. "My mom was able to take care of my siblings and not have to worry about me. "Obviously, it was for the best." The next step for Opoku was Mill- brook. "When I came to Millbrook it was very challenging because it was one of the best boarding schools in the country," he said. "Not having an education until I was 10 was hard. My host mom [Christina Lang] got me a great SAT tutor which helped RIGHT TO DREAM The Soccer Academy In Ghana Changed Edward Opoku's Life A 5-7, 140-pound forward, Opoku had five game- winning goals last season and was named a sec- ond-team All-American. PHOTO BY EMMA SHARON/COURTESY UVA

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