By Stefan Snijders
It’s mid-afternoon on the first Thursday of November. The shadow of Sapp Fieldhouse looms over Caniglia Field like the ghosts of the previous Halloween weekend.
On the turf, soccer players set up for crossing drills. One particular player looks restless, as if he’s ready to run out of his skin. He shifts from foot to foot, hopping, bundling up his energy for the run.
Then the whistle tweets, and he’s on his way along with his two teammates toward goal, eyes roving for the position of the crossed ball. It hits in front of him. He makes a physical adjustment, one that many players make, to strike the ball, only he gets a better foot on it than most do. It’s an excellent strike. The keeper has to react quickly to make the save and does.
Starting center forward Noor Hamadi shrugs it off and sets up for his next run, but his body language gives away his disappointment. He doesn’t let the miss bother him, though. He continues through the rest of practice, putting all his energy and concentration in the tasks ahead of him. Hamadi’s focus is turned toward the action during practice, even when he’s at the sidelines.
Noor Hamadi is focused. He’s driven. He works a job at nearly full-time hours and commits to the soccer team, where he’s a starting forward. He’s a sophomore business major who hopes to own his own company someday. It’s these qualities and his hard work that head coach Jason Mims says helped put Noor into the rotation regularly after redshirting his freshman year in 2014.
“He’s worked really hard, and there was an obvious difference even from the start of the season last year into January and February that he had logged long hours working on improving his game,” Mims said. “We talked with him about working on his presence on the ball, and he really took it literally.”
Hamadi said attending UNO was almost a given. He had many reasons to attend school here.
“The location, being close to home now, it was important. I always think that I’d go to UNO,” he said. “This program here, a great coach. I really wanted to be a part of it.” Which is why Hamadi came as a walk-on last fall.
After featuring on Omaha South High School’s state championship team in 2012-13 and in 2013-14, as well as playing as a kicker and punter for the Packers’ football team, Hamadi chose UNO for his immediate future.
He is athletic and loves lots of sports, but his passion has been soccer, ever since he can remember. The Hamadi family moved to the states from Kenya in 2006. “Noodle,” as his teammates call him, likes to emulate Didier Drogba, the striker from Ivory Coast who currently plays with MLS club Montreal Impact and is a former standout with Chelsea from the English Premier League. Noor grew up watching Drogba star at Chelsea for eight seasons.
Although shorter in stature, Hamadi identifies with the strong, intense goal-mouth dominance Drogba embodies. Coach Mims approves of this association.
“I never like to compare college players to professional ones, but Drogba is a good role model for Noodle,” he said. “He has that same type of strength and presence that becomes even more evident as the attack is moving forward toward goal, especially in that penalty area.”
Noor says he likes Drogba. “I want to have the power like he does, those skills,” he said. “When I’m watching players play, I see him and I think, I want to play like that.”
Noor is shy. Talking to him in an interview setting, he seemd to be slightly uncomfortable with the spotlight.
I eventually turned off the recorder toward the end of the day and just chatted with him and freshman defender Joel Kazhila, who sat in a massage chair behind us. Then he reverted to what I can only guess is the real Noor: relaxed, still sort of quiet but more conversational. Seeing that made evident what Noor said about his teammates and their connections. The team spends quite a bit of time together, even when they aren’t on the road for an away game.
Hamadi said living on campus helps provide that environment, and there’s a strong connection between the guys on the team thanks to that. It especially helps when they get together to play games in the offseason.
“There’s no gaps between us, we’re all really close,” Noor said.
I stood and observed, while the two interacted. Smiling, enjoying real interaction. Hamadi asked what American football position his teammate could could see him playing.
“Kicker,” Kazhila replied, laughing.