Boys soccer: Valparaiso’s Yamen Atassi appreciates health on field, life in the U.S.
By Tom Wyatt Post-Tribune correspondent August 29, 2012 11:10PM
Chesterton's Sam Iatarolo tries to stop Valparaiso's Yamen Atassi in the first half at Chesterton High School Wednesday evening. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 1, 2012 5:33PM
Yamen Atassi takes nothing for granted.
Having lost all of his junior season and most of his sophomore season to injuries, the Valparaiso senior will never take his health for granted. And having seen the lives of so many people lost from his family’s native country of Syria, Atassi will never take the life he lives in the United States for granted.
For the first time since his freshman season, Atassi is healthy. And the Vikings forward is looking forward to spending an entire year on the field with his teammates, as opposed to cheering them on from the sidelines. But, meanwhile, he and his family watch in horror as hundreds of people from their homeland in Syria, including his father’s home city of Homs, are killed daily.
“The day-to-day things we go through here, we think, oh, this is a nuisance or that is annoying,” Atassi said. “Every day hundreds and hundreds are dying. That’s difficult. These people are surviving literally on nothing. They’re getting wiped out and no one is caring about them.
“To me, I have to keep that connection. If I don’t have that connection, I feel I’m neglecting them.”
Atassi is able to turn to Valparaiso coach Danny Jeftich for guidance, about soccer and about dealing with strife in his family’s homeland. Jeftich is from the former Yugoslavia and lost friends and family in the years of unrest there.
“He has a lot on his mind,” Jeftich said of Atassi. “He’s a very religious young man. His spirituality is very important to him. I’ve talked to him one on one and shared my experience with him. We’ve talked, and I told him how I handled it.”
On the field, Atassi is trying to regain his form. In three games, he has a goal and an assist. But he feels he should be better.
“My teammates see that I’m enjoying being out there, and I think they’re happy for me in that way,” Atassi said. “But I think they’ll be happier if I start playing the way I used to play. I feel like they expect more out of me than what I’m giving. After my freshman year, a lot of people expected a lot of things out of me, and I haven’t delivered anything. I’ve got two varsity goals, one as a sophomore and one this year.
“But I can tell they’re being patient. And as long as the team is doing well, that’s all I care about.”
Jeftich, though, knows what Atassi is capable of doing.
“We love having him on the team and pray every day for him to stay healthy,” Jeftich said. “He’s got a very quick first step and can use either foot to control the ball. He can take players one on one, and he’s not afraid to take the shot. If not, he’s very good at distributing the ball.
“He works hard and is very humble. He’s just a pleasure to have around.”