Eric Anderson

Men’s soccer standout Agaba prepares to repay the villagers who helped him stay in school

by Eric Anderson October 17, 2011 in Men's Soccer

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As an elite student and standout soccer player in Kampala, Uganda, Perez Agaba was poised to make a choice as his time at King’s College Budo Secondary School came to an end.

“You’ve got to choose one of the two; doing both is almost impossible,” Agaba said of the setup in his homeland, where college sports are essentially limited to intramural activities. “You’re either going for the academics or for the soccer, and you’ve got to decide.”

There was no doubt which way Agaba would have gone. He was approached by a professional soccer club about signing with them.

“I sat with my mom,” he recalled, “and I told her, ‘I love playing soccer, but I’ll be honest about life: Soccer’s not really going to give me what I need to live the life I would love to lead.’ ... I was ready to just play for fun and go to school.”

In the end, Agaba didn’t have to choose one of his loves over another.

Thanks to his time in a study abroad program that brought him to the U.S., he found his way to Indiana-Purdue-Indianapolis and has continued to excel.

“I was really excited to get the chance to do both,” Agaba said. “I like the balance between the sports and academics and life outside the classroom.”

Agaba is one of 10 finalists for the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award for men’s soccer, which focuses on the total student-athlete and encourages students to use their platform in athletics to make a positive impact as leaders in their communities.

He is passionate about each of the four hallmarks of the Senior CLASS Award: classroom, community, character and competition.

The youngest of eight children raised by a single mother – his father passed away in an automobile accident when he was 6 years old – the importance of education was instilled in Agaba from a young age.

“If you’re going to be successful, you’ve got to earn it,” he remembers his mother telling him. “To me, that was the start of everything.”

His family couldn’t afford for him to stay in school on their own, but community members in Kampala helped out to make sure his education continued. Agaba repaid them with success. His academic achievement was to the level where he was featured in stories about the country’s top young scholars, and he earned an opportunity to study at the Brooks School in North Andover, Mass., opening the door to a U.S. education.

At IUPUI, Agaba has a perfect 4.0 grade point average majoring in biomedical engineering with a minor in pre-med/mathematics and has claimed nearly every academic award possible. Last fall, he was named a first-team Academic All-American by ESPN and the College Sports Information Directors of America and was the Summit League Scholar-Athlete of the Year in addition to receiving several prestigious scholarships.

Exactly what’s next for Agaba academically isn’t clear yet – he’s applying to medical schools and graduate schools. “I’m trying to keep my options open,” he said. “If I get into medical school, that’s my first priority.”

That goes back to Kampala, which like many communities in Uganda and across Africa have sub-standard hospitals and medical facilities. Agaba said that during his second year of high school, he started thinking about how the community had helped him throughout his life.

“How best can I give back to the people who have given so much to me?” he asked himself. “I think it would only be fair enough if I grew up and specialized in a career that helped my community the most, and the only thing I could think of was a health care career.”

And much like those who helped him stay in school back home, Agaba tries to do the same in his current community. He’s a mentor at Harshman Elementary School, part of Indianapolis Public Schools, where he stresses the message his mother ingrained in him: Education and hard work are the keys to success.

“I was really excited to know that I’d have the opportunity to interact with the younger people because that’s our future generation,” he said. “(At Harshman), I’m basically dealing with young scholars who are at a high risk of dropping out of school because of what is going on at their home. Their situations are related so closely to what it’s like at home in Uganda. Kids have to drop out of school not because it’s a choice, but because they just have to (to support their families). ... To me, it’s a passion. I love doing it.”

Of course, Agaba also loves his time on the soccer field.

The 5-foot-10, 160-pound forward has 13 goals and seven assists in 65 career appearances (46 starts), and has scored five game-winning goals. Last fall, he was a second-team selection on both the National Soccer Coaches Association of America All-Midwest Region team and the All-Summit League team.

Needless to say, with classes, mentoring, soccer practice and games, including travel to road matches, organization might be Agaba’s biggest strength.

“Being a student-athlete, it doesn’t matter what you’re taking, it doesn’t matter what you’re majoring in, it’s always going to be busy and it boils down to how well you manage your time,” he said. “There’s a lot of sacrifice, that’s for sure. Being on the road most of the time, you’re missing classes, you’ve got to make up for them. There are tests you’re missing, you’ve got to make up for that. But to me the most important thing is realizing that for these four years you’re going to have to sacrifice.”

But Agaba wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I like the combination,” he said. “I think without this kind of life, it would have been a little more boring. I’m used to it – for 3 1/2 years, I’ve been doing this.”

And doing it very well.