Refugee from Iraq example for DSU men’s soccer team

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From playing street soccer in the capital of Iraq to playing soccer on the turf of Legend Solar Stadium, Ather Dawood has made quite the journey to play at Dixie State University.

At 10 years old, Ather’s family left Baghdad, Iraq, to escape a war-ridden country. His neighbors and churches were getting bombed, he said.

“I’m Catholic, which is surprising because Iraq is such a Muslim-dominated country,” Dawood said. “That also made [my family] a target because believing in Jesus is bad to Islam. I usually wear a necklace of Christ, but I would have to hide it to be careful to survive.”

The only place his family could go was Turkey because his uncle lived there.

“We went on a ‘visit’ [to Turkey], but really we went there illegally just so we could be safe,” Dawood said. “I couldn’t go to school because I wasn’t a citizen, so at 10 years old I was working.”

Dawood said being tough and being able to provide for yourfamily at a young age was some- thing his parents emphasized. Dawood swept hair and served tea at a women’s hair salon in Istanbul. When he was 12, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services finally accepted his family’s request to come to the U.S.

Dawood was introduced to American football when he first came to Tucson, Arizona, but he started playing organized soccer in sixth grade on his middle school’s team. He then played with club and high school teams and eventually was recruited by Yavapai College in Prescott, Arizona.

Dawood played four years of varsity soccer in high school; he became captain of the team his sophomore year. He also played baseball (where his team won the state championship his senior year), football and track.

“I played basketball in middle school,” Dawood said laughing. “But I got fouled out every game. I was too aggressive for those kids.”

Right before he left for Yavapai College, his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. 

“There was no way I was going to leave her,” he said. “But my mom told me that if I did not go, she would not be happy.”

His mother has now been cancer-free for two years, and he has a tattoo dedicated to her strength.

Dawood said his family had a lot of support in the U.S. His father got a job pretty quick because he is hard working and wasn’t picky about what jobs were available. After five years as refugees in America, with clear tax and criminal records, his family was able to take the citizen test. 

“Because us kids were under 18, when our parents passed, we passed as well,” Dawood said. “So I became a citizen through my dad.”

After playing soccer at Yavapai College for two years, he was recruited by DSU. He is currently a senior psychology major, and he chose DSU because it offered him better scholarships than other competing schools.

“When I got the job in January, it only took a couple of weeks for Ather to reach out for help with something,”Head Soccer Coach Jonny Broadhead said. “He’s naturally very emotional, so he’s very competitive. He always asks everyone to raise the level of intensity, and sometimes they ask him to lower it.”

Broadhead said because Dawood is a senior, he is one of the mature players. He said he expects the team to respect and admire someone so intense and who loves what he does.

“Mature players [like Ather] should be showing the younger guys how they should act, lift, train and do assignments in school,” Broadhead said. “He takes pride in all that stuff.”

Defender Ryan Gibb, an junior English major from Payson, said Ather is a prime example of hard work and determination.

“He’s a workhorse,” Gibb said. “He’s one of the hardest working people on the team. If anything ever goes wrong in a game, you know Ather will yell at the referee about it.”

Dawood attempted 28 total shots with 13 shots on goal in 2016. He finished tied for third in goals scored with four, along with two assists. Three of his four goals came during PacWest play. Dawood also earned Academic All-PacWest honors in 2016.

Dawood and the rest of the men’s soccer team will face Chaminade University of Honolulu Thursday at 7 p.m. in the teams home opener. DSU men’s soccer is currently 4-0-0 for the season.