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A football hero for a new generation of Somali-Americans

Hamza Mohamed’s success represents much more to a community that’s balancing traditions new and old

hen the clock on the scoreboard hit zero, Hamza Mohamed was jubilant. His high school football team had just advanced to the state quarterfinals for the first time in 30 years. His friends and family rushed the field. His older brother, Kaafi Adeys, kissed him on the cheek, wrapped an arm around his neck and embraced him. Hamza could see the delight in Kaafi’s eyes. This made it all worth it. The two-a-days in the summer heat. Then tackling drills in the cold temperatures. Everyone congratulated him, lined up to take photos for their Instagram stories, proud that one of their own had succeeded. The usually stoic and measured 17-year-old could no longer control his emotions on that early November night. Tears streamed down his face.

The senior linebacker is the most talented Somali-American football player in the history of Willmar, Minnesota, a small rural town outside of Minneapolis. And for most of his career as a Cardinal at Willmar Senior High School, Hamza has been the only Somali-American on the team, consistently, as most Somalis play sports familiar to them such as soccer or cross-country. Now in this town with a growing Somali population, Hamza is a role model for first-generation high-schoolers like him who don’t want to play soccer or run anymore. They stop him in the hallways and after games to let him know they’re proud of him and to say they’re inspired by him. They want to play football like Hamza, their all-American hero.

“It’s great to accomplish this. I’ve been waiting for it my whole career,” said Hamza, who’s also a point guard on the basketball team. “I’m just going to enjoy it for this moment.”

One person missing at the game was Hamza’s mother — the one person he most wanted to make proud. Khadija Mohamed Jirow was where she was most days: looking after her retail shop, selling clothing, shoes, trinkets and more. She works there 12 hours a day, six days a week to provide for her family. Even if she wasn’t working, Hamza’s mom wouldn’t be at his game. She believes football is too violent and even tried to persuade Hamza to quit. He, of course, refused.

“I didn’t plan on [my children] being athletes,” Jirow said, with Hamza as her interpreter. “Basketball, football, soccer: They’re all the same. They are distractions from learning. Sports were their decision.”

Friends and family, including Hamza’s brother, Kaafi Adeys (second from left), have showed up consistently throughout the season to support Hamza. Coach Jon Konold said he had never seen that many Somalis at a Willmar football game in his 10 years of coaching at the school.

For years, Hamza watched his brother, Kaafi, who is nine years older, thrive as an athlete. Born in Somalia, Adeys was a star cross-country runner for Willmar High School and helped the team win back-to-back state titles in 2006 and 2007. He is now an English-Somali interpreter.

“It made me want to be better at what I wanted to do,” Hamza said. “He always had the 100 percent mentality. You can’t settle for average. He definitely motivated me.”

Jirow had another reservation about sports, one that ran much deeper for her. She wanted a “better life” for her children in the United States — and sports didn’t represent that for her. In 1998, Jirow, Adeys and her oldest daughter, Maqsuud Adeys, fled the war-torn country of Somalia for a Kenyan refugee camp. Her husband, Ali Jirow, had come to America seven years earlier, and the family reunited that year after they received asylum in the United States. Jirow and Ali Jirow eventually had three more children, including Hamza in 2001, but have since divorced.

“The biggest problem [in Somalia] was the violence,” Jirow said. “You didn’t know if you were going to live or die. I had family members who were killed during the civil war.”

Over 20 years, the war displaced up to 1.5 million people.

Source: https://theundefeated.com/features/football-hero-hamza-mohamed-for-a-new-generation-of-somali-americans/