UVa Striker Edward Opoku Earned Right to Dream

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.-- Edward Opoku is adjusting to college soccer. The first year UVa striker was a highly rated recruit coming out of high school, but it took a lot for him to get to that position. Opoku had to earn his right to dream.

Edward Opoku continues to adjust to college soccer. 

"Practice is tough, it isn't quite the same as when you were in high school," said the Virginia striker. 

"I think he would tell you, he would love to have a goal right now,"said UVa head coach George Gelnovatch, "but we're working on that, and I know he will score some goals.

"Guys love him," added Gelnovatch. "He is always smiling; he is a hard worker; and he is academically doing what he is supposed to be doing."

Opoku moved to the United States from Ghana when he was 15 years-old. The 5-foot-6, 140-pound forward attended the Millbrook School in Rye, New York, where he set school records for goals (85) and points (115). His performance for the Mustangs helped him earn his scholarship to the University of Virginia. 

As Opoku and the Wahoos prepare for game day at Klöckner Stadium, it's hard to think that there was a moment in Opoku's life that getting a degree was the furthest thing from his mind. For him soccer was never just a sport, but a chance at a better life. The average level of education in Ghana is the second grade with plenty not even attending school. Opoku was one of those boys that never saw inside of a classroom, well until 'Right to Dream.' 

'Right to Dream' is a soccer academy that helps children and their families have better opportunities in West Africa. 

"It is a residential academy that takes in these young boys and puts them in schools, gives them discipline, a roof over their head, food, and of course soccer training as well," said Gelnovatch. "An incredible opportunity that opens all sorts of doors."

"I didn't get an education until 'Right to Dream,'" said Opoku. 

The academy was founded by Tom Vernon, a former Manchester United scout, that wanted to combine education and soccer to provide a future for several young men. The group, which has not expanded to include a girls program as well, offer 100 percent scholarships to their athletes and help them either go professional or earn a degree. 

Before a young player is admitted into the program, the athlete will need to go through a grueling tryout process. Not only are the players tested on the pitch, the players' attitude and intelligence is weighed against hundreds of other applicants across ten regions.  Out of over a thousand hopefuls, less than 20 land a spot. Opoku's situation heading into his own tryout was quite challenging. 

"I'm not from a pretty background," said Opoku. "I'm from a really, really bad place." 

His situation forced him and his family to make some tough decisions early on. He moved away from his mother when he was just seven years old, moving in with his coach. He was hoping to make it big or earn some fame by playing soccer. 

"I played on the streets for a long time," he said. "Then I heard on the radio that 'Right to Dream' was doing a tryout.  I didn't have the gear necessary, so I had to borrow one of my friends'" 

Opoku admits he "ruled himself out" of landing a sport in the academy after learning about the extra requirements. "I didn't speak english very well..I needed a translator." But the academy saw something in Opoku. 

"My mom always said I had something special about me," he said. "It's funny that she says that, because she never saw me play soccer before." 

With 'Right to Dream' Opoku attended several tournaments in Europe, got an education and eventually earned a scholarship to his high school in Upstate New York.  It wasn't without sacrifices, however. After moving away from his mother, he rarely had chances to see her - in the last eight years, he was only able to see her twice. 

"Sometimes you need to have some sacrifices to help your family." 

When given the choice between a pro career and an education, Opoku chose the latter. He admits his mother did not understand it at first, but is now proud of her son and Opoku is happy with his decision.

In the end a program designed to help families is West Africa showed Opoku, he had the right to dream bigger. 

"I am really blessed," said Opoku. "I always say that I am one of the millions to be here, and it is such a wonderful time for me. I hope I am making good use of it." 


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