- September 28, 2023
- From his West African roots to his German upbringing, UCI men’s soccer midfielder and sociology major Samuel Atiye balances heart and ambition
On August 31, the UCI men’s soccer team faced the University of Nebraska Omaha. The stands at Omaha’s Caniglia Field were filled. At halftime, UCI was down by one. Between the chants from the cheerleaders and the roar from the crowd, junior midfielder and sociology major Samuel Atiye and his teammates couldn’t hear each other on the field. But by the end of the second half, the ‘Eaters pulled off a 2-1 win.
While the rush of the win and the size of crowd were thrilling, Atiye found the time he spent with his teammates during that trip just as memorable.
“At dinner, I think we laughed for 20 minutes straight. We laughed the entire trip. We didn’t stop laughing from takeoff to landing back in California. Those memories are more valuable than any win,” he says.
Kicking off in Germany
Atiye is the son of immigrants from the West African country of Togo and was born and raised in Dusseldorf, Germany. He joined the UCI men’s soccer program in 2022 and has played in 17 matches with over 600 minutes of play.
Soccer has always been a part of his life. Atiye has an older brother who played soccer and so a ball was always lying around. He can’t remember a time when a soccer ball wasn’t at his feet.
Atiye attracted attention for his soccer skills from an early age. In youth soccer leagues in Germany, he scored 64 goals in a season and was featured in the local newspaper for scoring five goals in a single game. He was recruited to play for the top soccer club in Germany and has been playing at the international level since he was 13. At 15, he represented Germany on their under-15 national team and later represented Togo on their under-20 national team.
Atiye came to the U.S. for college and soccer. He played for Monroe College in New York City before being recruited by UCI men’s soccer head coach Yossi Raz.
“Coach Raz was different than the other coaches I talked to. He didn’t sugarcoat anything. He told me where I had issues, but that he knew how to make me a better player. I knew this would ultimately help me reach my goal of becoming a professional soccer player, as well as a good student and human being off the field,” he says.
On his part, Raz says he looks for players who are first and foremost good people. Being skilled at soccer is obviously important, but it’s character that builds a strong team.
“Samuel is a good friend. He’s mature. He has good emotional intelligence. He has a great sense of humor but knows when to be serious. When you put this all into an equation, there’s no question he would be fantastic in our program,” says Raz.
In addition to being focused on personal goals, Atiye is also committed to a larger community vision.
“If the program is better after I leave, I did a good job whether or not I turn professional. The program is always first. No one is above the program,” he says.
Atiye attributes his perspective to his family. Knowing what his parents overcame as immigrants from Togo has led him to be especially grateful for the opportunity to pursue his dreams.
“My father taught me to work hard for the things you want. My family made me who I am today,” he says.
Beyond the field
Atiye doesn’t just excel on the field, but in the classroom as well. In addition to the strength of the soccer program, he was convinced to sign with UCI due to its academics. At Monroe College, he was a regular on the Principal’s or Dean’s List. He’s accomplished the same at UCI. Atiye chose to major in sociology out of his strong desire to better understand human behavior and society. Plus, he likes the versatility of the degree.
“I’m flexible and good at adapting to any environment. I wanted a degree that could do the same,” he says.
In the off-season, the men’s soccer team practices for at least two hours in the morning, followed by another couple hours of weight training. In the evenings they regroup to work on technical skills. In addition, Atiye arrives at practice an hour early, at 6:45 a.m. to work on his mobility to make sure he is ready for play. Outside of team practices, he runs and swims laps to improve his fitness. He still feels like he’s playing catch up after suffering a string of injuries since arriving at UCI and he wants to make sure he’s at the top of his game. During the season, the team practices less, but their game schedule is intense. When asked how he’s able to balance education with soccer, he’s a little bewildered.
“I don’t know. It’s what I have done since I was 13,” he says.
Atiye will graduate from UCI in fall 2024, after which he hopes to fulfill his childhood dream to play soccer at the professional level. While Raz believes in Atiye’s soccer career, he’s also confident in Atiye’s ability to succeed in anything he pursues.
“Besides being good at soccer, Samuel elevates our department, the university, and the community,” says Raz. “He’s an exceptional young man with integrity and leadership qualities. He’s a benefit to us all.”
Check out UCI’s soccer schedule to catch Atiye and teammates in action.
--Jill Kato for UCI School of Social Sciences
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