The Student News Site of Alexandria City High School

Theogony

The Student News Site of Alexandria City High School

Theogony

The Student News Site of Alexandria City High School

Theogony

Student Profile: Dennis Mensah

Mensah+displays+his+skills
Mensah displays his skills

Evan Paez

When Senior Dennis Mensah came to the United States at age 10, he barely spoke English. Now, eight years later, he is headed to James Madison University on a full scholarship to play Division 1 soccer.

Mensah grew up in Accra, the capital and largest city in Ghana, with a population of roughly two million people. “Growing up in Accra was tough” Mensah said. “But I am proud of where I am from.” In a country where soccer is the most popular sport, Mensah fell in love with the game at a young age. He often stayed out until the late hours of night, breaking his parents curfew in order to kick around with his friends. Mensah had a natural gift, but it was not until he came to the United States that he realized his true potential.

Once in the United States, Mensah and his family lived in Woodbridge, VA, for a brief stint, staying with a close relative. When it came time for Mensah to enroll in school, however, his family decided it would be best to make the move to Alexandria, where he entered Francis C. Hammond in the 6th grade.

Only a couple months after arriving in the United States, 11-year-old Mensah was scouted to play for Alexandria Soccer Association (ASA), a local non-profit organization intended to develop good character, mental and physical fitness, and interpersonal skills through soccer activities. ASA provided Mensah with the opportunity to continue playing the sport he loved while also being able to meet new friends. “Playing for Alexandria made it a much easier transition for me” Mensah said. “I was able to meet new people and understand the culture of the U.S. better. I met friends that I am still very close with today.” An already skilled player, Mensah was able to improve his technical and tactical qualities through Alexandria’s club philosophy which emphasizes technique over size and speed.

Everything was not so smooth in the beginning, however. Coming from another country, life in the U.S. was a challenge. Mensah said, “I had to adapt in so many ways. At home I had to help take care of my little brother and sister, setting good examples for my siblings to follow. I tried to help them in any way I could.” With both of his parents working, it was quite difficult for Mensah to get rides to and from soccer practice. With practices four days a week and games on the weekends, parents of players often helped out by providing transportation. “I am very grateful for my teammates and their families. They went out of their way to pick me up and drop me off–without them it would have been very difficult to continue playing soccer.”

“That only made me want to work harder” Mensah said. “I felt like I had to repay these people, and the best way to do it was on the field.” Mensah made an immediate impact with Alexandria. His natural speed combined with a deft touch and sharpened technique allowed him to glide past defenders with ease. His ability to beat players off the dribble was exceptional, making him quite the attacker and a scary sight for opposing teams.

At age 12 Mensah tried out, and was selected to play for Virginia’s Olympic Development Program (ODP). ODP is a national identification and development program for high-level players. The program identifies and develops youth players throughout the country to represent their state association, region, and the United States in soccer competition. ODP is designed not to conflict with club soccer schedules, so players in the pool typically train once a week with tournaments, showcases, and camps sprinkled in throughout the year.

The Olympic Development Program is broken up into four levels: district, state, regional, and national. During his four years in the program, Mensah was selected to the regional pool four times.

ODP provided Mensah the opportunity to train and play with some of the best players throughout the state of Virginia as well as the region (which includes states from Virginia all the way up the coast to Maine) while also receiving quality instruction from nationally licensed coaches.

In his first year, Mensah was invited to Italy with the Region 1 squad to play in the Piccole Grandi Squadre Tournament. The team earned a top-four finish in a tournament that featured 36 teams including European youth national teams as well as academy teams from prestigious clubs throughout Italy. “It was a great experience” said Mensah. “Playing against some of the top players in the world, you are often forced out of your comfort zone. But at the end of the day, that is what makes you better.”

After spending five years with local ASA, Mensah decided that the best move for his soccer career would be to join Bethesda Soccer Club, a prestigious U.S. Soccer Development Academy club in Maryland known for its professional environment and pedigree of players sent to college programs and the professional ranks. Here, Mensah was able to train with some of the best players in the DMV and play against the top academies in the U.S.

At age 16, Mensah was entering the early stages of the college soccer recruiting process. He said, “The recruiting process was hectic. I had many schools on my list including the likes of UNC Chapel Hill, Lehigh, Virginia Tech, NC State and James Madison, but in the end I chose JMU.” Mensah explained his choice by saying, “I wanted to stay closer to home. I also really liked the campus when I went on my official visit and I felt like I could fit in and make a great impact.”

Since his arrival to the United States, Mensah has made immense progress. Coming from a new country, learning a new language, and immersing himself in a new culture, Mensah has done things that most kids could never experience. Mensah said, “The people I would like to credit the most are my parents. They believed in me and guided me on the right path–they helped me when I was down and praised me when I did good. I would definitely also like to credit my coaches and my friends.”

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Student Profile: Dennis Mensah