Michael Lewis

Soccer peers faced adversity and moved past trials for triumph

by Michael Lewis October 25, 2010 in Men's Soccer

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How someone deals with adversity, challenges and change can tell volumes about that person.
What Samson Malijani and Bobby Warshaw have had to go through are on different ends of the spectrum, yet they handled it with grace, dignity and determination.
Malijani, a senior striker at Fairleigh Dickinson University, lost his parents to a car accident at the age of 10 and had to overcome a serious knee injury that he feared would end his career.
Warshaw, a senior defender and team captain at Stanford University, was moved back to defense after leading the Cardinal in scoring in his first two seasons, without a complaint. In fact, Warshaw has excelled at the position.
So, it should not be surprising that Warshaw and Malijani were selected to be among the 10 men’s finalists for the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award. The honor is given to student-athletes who exemplify the four Cs — community, classroom, character and competition.
Malijani endured some tough times, yet he considered himself fortunate because he had someone there to help pick up the pieces.
When Malijani was 10 years old, his parents were killed in a car accident in his native Zambia. The youngest of five children, he was taken by his aunt Christabel and uncle Alfred. They treated Malijani as if he was one of their own children.
“It was hard,” he said. “I was young. I didn’t know what to do. It was as if my heart was ripped apart. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t socialize. I wouldn’t do anything on a daily basis. I got depressed. At that time it was really tough for me. My aunt took me in and she has been in every aspect of my life.”
His aunt and uncle raised a truly decent young man, someone who decided to pursue a college education in the United States. He was recruited by FDU coach Seth Roland, who relied on only DVDs. He never saw Malijani play live.
Roland liked what he saw, but he never expected someone with Malijani’s demeanor and leadership abilities.
“Samson is really a special guy,” he said. “Not only is he an extremely talented soccer player, but he’s highly motivated with a truly professional worth ethic and true leadership abilities. He is the total package—a good student, a good leader, a good player. He commands the respect of every one of his peers.”
Malijani has had to overcome some on-the-field challenges as well. After connecting for 18 goals in his junior season, he was forced to sit out last season with an ACL injury.
“I thought I’d never play again,” Malijani siad. “I’ve had injuries that lasted a month or weeks, but none like this. Every day was so hard for me. I couldn’t watch soccer. I couldn’t read soccer.”
But again, Malijani had support from a new family—his teammates and Roland.
“All my teammates encouraged me,” he said. “Coach Roland said I could be back. Rehab, it’s tough. I knew what I wanted to do. I loved soccer. That was the thing that kept me going.”
Malijani returned this season, although he was forced to sit out five games because his muscles are very tight, Roland says, and the team did not want to risk Malijani pulling a muscle.
While he has scored only three goals this season, Malijani’s presence in the lineup has been missed. The Knights are 6-1-1 when he plays and 0-5 without him.
“He means that much to us on the field to have someone to hold the ball, to establish a rhythm,” Roland said. “His leadership, it’s inspiring.”
Admittedly not much of a student until he attended FDU, Malijani has maintained a 3.0 average as he pursues a masters degree in sports administration.
A political science major with a 3.57 GPA, Warshaw last year was forced to switch from an attacking role he had played his entire career to central defense.
Warshaw never flinched.
“It was all right,” he said. “It’s what you need to do to get the job done. I wasn’t a good forward. I’m lucky to have a chance to play.”
Warshaw’s philosophy was simple: “What do you want me to do to perform my best?”
If Warshaw had his way, he would rather be in a more creative position.
“I’ll be honest with you. I’d rather play forward or midfield,” he said. “They’re more fun, but at the end of the day, it’s about winning.”
The transition was an extremely smooth one for the Mechanicsburg, Pa. native.
“We did well last year, so that made the transition fun,” Warshaw said.
Warshaw had so much fun that he was named a National Soccer Coaches Association first-team All-American last season as Stanford allowed only 18 goals. A Hermann Trophy semifinalist this season, Warshaw still led the team in goals (six) and points (13) last year and is second on the team with four goals through the games of October 21.
He feels that soccer has helped prepare for the rest of his life.
“It’s a combination of the rigid and the expressiveness and creativeness,” he said. “I’ve learned about life through soccer more than anything else. Learning the discipline, the responsibilities and the amount of work it takes.”
With success on the backline, Warshaw is looking forward to giving a pro career a try, something he might not have had an opportunity to do if he stayed up front.
“It’s something I would definitely like to do,” he said.
The same goes for Malijani.
“I want to give it a shot to play professionally,” he said. “My goal is to stay in the sports industry.”
Seeing what they have accomplished in college, Warshaw and Malijani have gotten a great head start to be successful, whether it as pro soccer players or in life in general.