MIDLAND Samson Defeugaing sauntered onto the field Tuesday and slapped hands with each one of his Sockers FC teammates. It wasn’t long before Vitalis Atemafac engaged in lively conversation.
Soccer, the mention of the sport brings immediate smiles, wide ones, to the faces of Defeugaing and Atemafac.
“I love soccer, like, I call it my first girlfriend,” Defeugaing said.
Soccer acted as the “middle man” in the introduction between the two four years ago in Maryland.
Soccer continues to be the glue in a now-seamless friendship.
And it turns out soccer is just one of many common threads between the first-year Sockers players.
“It’s crazy. It’s a small world,” Atemafac said. “You never know what’s going to happen.”
It’s probably a thought that crossed both of their minds during similar experiences that took place five years apart. Atemafac, 21, with his family, moved to Maryland from Cameroon in 2003. Defeugaing, 23, coincidentally, made the identical journey in 2008 to join his mother. They ended up in towns about 15 minutes apart.
“You know, sometimes you tell people you come from Africa, the first thing they ask is if it is true that lions and zebra are in the street? That is not true,” Defeugaing said with a laugh as he laced his cleats in preparation for Tuesday’s practice with the Sockers. “Cameroon is nice. It is developed. Everything is structured and organized. It’s beautiful. There’s just more opportunities (in the United States.)”
Separately sharing the story of when they met produces individual details that differ some, on specifics mainly. But all are relayed with a noticeable charismatic charm — the starting point being soccer, of course.
They did not know one another in Cameroon, but through conversations upon making each others’ acquaintance while playing for an amateur adult league team, Spartans FC, in Maryland, they learned of mutual friends. Go figure.
Defeugaing, who has an older brother and older sister in Cameroon, one older sister in Canada and a younger sister in Maryland, spent his first year in the United States learning English. In 2010 he enrolled at College of Southern Maryland, a two-year school, where he picked back up his accounting studies and joined the soccer team. The latter was an instant change from back home in Cameroon, where his parents weren’t keen on having their son mix sports with education.
“I was playing (outside of school), but my parents didn’t want me to play (in school) because they said soccer was distracting,” Defeugaing said. “They wanted me to focus on school. But when I got here, my mom said to do what I have to do. I chose both, soccer and school.”
Atemafac, an only child, chose to attend Arizona Western College after high school. He and Defeugaing crossed paths again in Arizona when the College of Southern Maryland was playing in the NJCAA National Championships. It coincided with a crossroads, of sorts, as both were trying to figure their next moves.
“My sophomore year in Arizona I’m just like, ‘I need somewhere to go next year,” Atemafac said.
Enter Wayland Baptist University.
Atemafac and Defeugaing drew interest from the four-year NAIA program in Plainview They were a packaged deal, of sorts, each vouching for the other, and a couple phone calls later — to Texas they went. When they arrived, through, it seemed odd when they were assigned to different dorm rooms. Quick fix.
“Him and I we went and saw the dean and complained, like, we like being together because we are from the same country. The dean appreciated what we did and moved us to the same dorm,” Atemafac said.
Apparently, everyone benefited from the move. The duo spoiled teammates and friends with their preferred dish, a stew that calls for peanut butter — the special ingredient — tomatoes, onion, pepper, meat, with rice or plantains, and delighted in promoting their favorite African tunes.
“We just do everything together. He’s like my brother. We spend time together, talk about everything back home, we eat the same food and we have a similar background. The conversation is easy going,” Defeugaing said.
Atemafac, who obtained his U.S. citizenship two years ago, is a forward and started 18 matches, logged 1,395 minutes and posted two goals and three assists for Wayland Baptist, which went 12-4-2. Defeugaing, listed as a defender/midfield on the Pioneers' roster, started 17 games in 2012 and recorded four goals and one assist.
An empty summer ahead of them and knowing they want to pursue a professional soccer career, they decided together to try out for the Sockers. Again, it worked out as a two-for steal. Sockers head coach Warren Cottle has no complaints. And without a doubt, the peanut stew is a hit here, too.
“They are full of life. They are super good people and great influences on the team,” Cottle said.
Atemafac has a goal and an assist this season with the Sockers (0-3-1, one point), who are in search of their first Premier Development League victory when they host the El Paso Patriots (1-2-1, four points) at 7:30 tonight at Grande Communications Stadium.
“There’s a mixture, but I think it’s fun, it’s interesting. I would never know I would have a teammate from England or Ireland,” Defeugaing said of playing with the Sockers. “On the field, combined together, it makes us strong. We African guys, we are aggressive, you know. England guys, they have kind of the same heart as us. American dudes, they are more physical. Spanish dudes, the way they play, that style, they are fast, you know. All of that together — I learn from them.”
Defeugaing and Atemafac finish up their collegiate careers in the fall, and both have aspirations of playing in the pros one day. But each said that if soccer doesn’t pan out down the road, they are extremely grateful for the educations they have been able to obtain. Defeugaing said he is even considering his master’s degree.
There are plenty of uncertainties with the aforementioned soccer careers, but one matter is concrete.
“You got to be friends,” Atemafac said. “You never know where life is going to take you. He might help me one day, I might help him one day. After soccer, after school, yes, we are still going to be friends.”
>> Follow Joshua Weaver on Twitter @OAtheWeave