Being a first generation college student is a title that a number of people can relate to. One of those people is junior Alhaji Tambadu, a native of Sierra Leone and a breakout player for the Georgia Southern men’s soccer team.
In his third year with the Eagles, Tambadu has proven himself to be a valuable teammate on the field as the team's leading goal-scorer on with four so far.
As a middle child of four, he developed his love for soccer at an early age back in his home country but the family set their sights on something bigger.
“My mom moved here before us, but I came here on November 22, 2012,” Tambadu said. “Moving down here was really good. It was a good opportunity for me and my family…to better ourselves.”
In the years since the family moved to Stone Mountain, Georgia, he has accomplished a lot through the game he loves but remains humble and tries to keep it that way.
Having only played a year of high school soccer, Tambadu established his name playing club soccer for DDYSC in Atlanta as a youth.
He received a tryout from the Atlanta United development academy after being spotted with his previous club and made the team.
"I was playing there for a year and a half and it was [a] really good moment for me to develop myself as a player," Tambadu said. "Playing for Atlanta United made me a better player and then [I] learned a lot of things from there before coming to college."
But soccer is not his only love, Tambadu spoke glowingly about his other passion—cooking.
"I like cooking, mostly I’ll cook African food like fufu, rice and chicken, and all types of other food," Tambadu said. "When I have a game, I like eating rice and chicken because that’s my favorite meal."
Tambadu has a strong relationship with his teammates and they are constantly cooking with each other and finding ways to bond.
To get ready for a game, the 20-year-old has pregame rituals that get him ready for the action.
"Mostly I like to listen to Chris Brown songs because he’s my favorite artist," Tambadu said. "You know African people we like dancing, it makes me dance and put a smile on everybody’s face before the game."
The Sierra Leone native had a smile on his face after scoring his first career goal, then two more, on his way to being named the Sun Belt offensive Player of the Week and Aaron Olitsky Tournament MVP in the opening week of the season.
Tambadu said that has been one of the greatest moments in his collegiate career and one he'll never forget.
"I used to play defensive midfield,” he said. “So for me, pushing in front and then playing, attacking mid and then scoring my first goal for Georgia Southern was [a] really, really good moment for me and I was really excited about it.”
When he's not scoring goals on gameday, Tambadu has enjoyed his time off the field in the city of Statesboro with his teammates.
"When I was in Sierra Leone, I lived in a small village which is probably not the same size as Statesboro,” he said. “It doesn’t really bother me, I like it here a lot.”
He has a strong support system in his family, who have played a strong role in making him the man he is today. They are constantly motivating him to be the best person he can be, on and off the field.
"Every time I think about my family and think about my mom it makes me work hard," Tambadu said. "And, also when I think [about] where I came from, that also makes me keep working hard because I came from nothing and I want to make something for myself and my family."
Tambadu's favorite soccer team is Arsenal, a team based in London, England that plays in the Premier League.
He said that maybe one day if he continues to improve himself, he'd love to play for them.
If playing professional soccer isn't in the cards for Tambadu, the interdisciplinary studies major still would love to be apart of the game.
"I’ll probably try to be a coach, help other kids to develop the sport of soccer and help other people become better players," Tambadu said.
His current head coach, John Murphy, has done just that for him on and off the field.
"He goes hard at me to make me a better person and a better player," Tambadu said. "Always asking about my family, asking about how I’m feeling, he’s always checking on me. He’s a really good guy and I’m really happy to have him on my side."
Through ups and downs of the season so far, Tambadu's current focus is clear: win the Sun Belt title that eluded last year's GS team.
"[T]his year, we really want to win our conference and we have a really, really good team this year," Tambadu said. “We’re willing to work hard and bring the trophy home. That’s our goal this year."
Chuck Paggett, The George-Anne Sports Reporter, email@example.com