Joel Kazhila’s wild ride to follow his dreams

Photo by Joel Kazhila

Ellie Brecht

After traveling to the U.S., playing soccer for a successful academy and then committing to UNO, Omaha soccer player Joel Kazhila expected to be eligible for competition right away. The South Africa native was deemed ineligible due to one missing science credit. The NCAA later rejected Kazhila and UNO’s decision to appeal his ineligibility. Although Kazhila was ineligible at the Division I level, he would have been eligible at any other level of collegiate athletics; however, he was committed to sticking the year out and pursuing his dream of playing Division I soccer.

During his year sitting out of competition, Kazhila experienced frequent uncertainty about decisions he had made concerning soccer. He thought about all of the ways this year of sitting on the sidelines could have been avoided. For instance, he could have first committed to a division II program to complete his credit, then transferred to a Division I school. Although the thoughts about potential various scenarios flooded Kazhila’s mind, he was more upset that he couldn’t use his talent on the field to help his team succeed.

“I think the most emotionally tough aspect of sitting out for a year was knowing how good I was as a player at that point in time,” Kazhila said. “Just knowing how much I could have helped the team at that stage.”

Despite the difficulty of being stationed on the sideline, Kazhila learned a lot about himself and the sport of soccer.

“I learned to not take playing soccer for granted,” Kazhila said. “Having come from an academy in America that broke all sorts of records, I definitely took playing soccer for granted and it was a reality check for how quickly everything can change. It made me really think about if soccer was something I really wanted to do.”

Kazhila not only learned a lot about himself and soccer, but he also learned a lesson or two about life.

“This year of sitting out taught me how to appreciate the smallest of things in life,” Kazhila said. “One aspect that I am forever grateful for is how, being a Christian, that season made me put my trust in God and believe that He truly has great things in store for me.”

Kazhila was unable to contribute on the soccer field; however, his presence did not go without notice. His positivity and willingness to accept his role allowed him to still be a contributing force for the Mavericks.

“I would help where I could with tactical advice for my teammates,” Kazhila said. “I would try to help as far as offering advice because I could see things on the field that other players might not see. I would say I was successful in putting my personal challenges behind me and putting the team ahead of myself in my efforts to motivate them.”

Many athletes view sitting on the sidelines as an entirely negative experience. Kazhila described that it could easily be made into one, but he chose the opposite.

“Looking back on it, there are days where I still wish I could have played that first season; however, I believe that in every challenge is a lesson to be learned,” Kazhila said. “I’m extremely grateful that sitting out made me a lot more mature regarding life in general. I definitely do not think I would be the same person I am today had I not sat out for that year. I have no regrets.”

Kazhila is now competing in his second year eligible for the Mavericks and is contributing largely to the team’s recent success.