By: Steve Boltri – Staff Writer
“There are over 400,000 division I student athletes, and just about all of us will be going pro in something other than sports,” says a NCAA commercial promoting the collegiate studies of its athletes.
Lalas Abubakar, former UD soccer player, is one of just a small percentage of student athletes who does not fit into the group of “just about all of us” that we hear about in this commercial.
Abubakar made University of Dayton history on Jan. 13, when he was drafted by the Columbus Crew fifth overall in the MLS SuperDraft, the highest draft pick of any UD student athlete since Jim Paxson was selected third in the 1956 NBA Draft.
According to the NCAA, during the 2015-2016 school year, there were 132,201 male student athletes participating in the five Division I sports with the largest professional markets in the United States: football, basketball, baseball, hockey and soccer.
Of these athletes, 34,274 were eligible to be drafted professionally once their seasons ended. Only 1175, or roughly 3.4 percent, of the eligible athletes were drafted for their respective sports.
Abubakar started his soccer career in Accra, Ghana, where he was born and raised. He was team captain of Adventist Senior High School in Ghana before playing soccer at the University of Ghana during his freshman year.
Abubakar has also represented the Ghanaian under-20 national team. After one year at the University of Ghana, Abubakar transferred to the University of Dayton where he started to really make a name for himself.
Abubakar became a vital part of UD’s team, playing an important role as a central defender, and received many accolades in his three years at Dayton. As a sophomore, his first year as a Flyer, Abubakar started all 19 games. He was named to the A-10 All-Rookie team and was named Dayton’s defensive player of the year.
As a junior, he started all 23 games, helping the Flyers to an A-10 Conference title and a run in the NCAA Tournament. UD lost on penalty kicks in the second round to ninth-ranked Ohio State.
He was again named Dayton defensive player of the year, First Team All-Region, All-Ohio, and All-Conference, as well as being named to the A-10 Commissioner’s Honor Roll in both the fall and spring.
Abubakar started all but one game in his final season with the Flyers. He was unfortunately suspended for what would have been his final game at Baujan Field after receiving a red card in the previous match.
He earned Scholar All-America Honors, was named A-10 defender of the year, earned Second Team All-Midwest Region honors, First Team All-Conference, All-Ohio, and All-Academic Ohio honors, as well as being named Team MVP for the first time. He graduated one semester early with a degree in general studies.
Abubakar is nothing but elated about the opportunity to play professionally and is very excited to be staying in Ohio, where he has spent most of his time in the United States.
“I am very excited about being drafted so high in the MLS SuperDraft. I came to the United States to play soccer at Dayton and for the past two years I have really been focusing on the draft,” Abubakar said in an interview with Flyer News.
“I have been practicing, training, and working very hard to make this dream a reality. I told myself I’m going to work harder to get a chance at the MLS draft. Being drafted was really a dream come true for me.”
As for staying in Ohio, Abubakar commented, “I am really excited to be in Columbus. I have some family and a lot of really good friends in the area. It makes me feel comfortable that I don’t have to travel far around the country to settle into my new job.”
As any good professional would, Abubakar has set many goals for himself. But above all, he wants to be the best teammate he can be and he hopes that part of that is helping his team win games.
Dayton senior James Haupt, a teammate of Abubakar for three years at Dayton, was quick to praise Abubakar’s contributions as a teammate.
“Lalas, from the beginning, ever since he got here, always cared about the other guys,” Haupt said. “He always wanted to do well. And then he took it upon himself to be the leader on the field when the team was down to provide that spark that we needed.”
Dayton men’s soccer head coach Dennis Currier backed up Abubakar’s competitive spirit, citing a combination of talent, athleticism and desire.
“Lalas, as a player, is one of the most athletic in Division I. He’s a winner,” Currier said. “Looking at the [MLS SuperDraft] combine, they got killed 4-0 and you could tell that it really affected him as an individual and he was probably the only one at the combine that really cared about winning. Before he came to Dayton he said that he wanted to win us a championship. And he did that in 2015, and played a very big, critical role in that.”
The quality of play as well as the speed and athleticism of the players in the MLS is elevated compared to what is seen in collegiate Division I play. However, this transition shouldn’t be too hard for Abubakar. He has stated himself that he isn’t scared of the new challenges that he’ll face, but rather he wants to continue playing how he knows how to play.
Currier isn’t worried, either, stating that “I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s actually one of the better athletes in the MLS. His attributes as a soccer player are very good, but confidence is his biggest one. He’s not going to shy away from anyone he faces.”
Abubakar possess many attributes he needs to be a successful professional soccer player. He has size, speed, athleticism, talent, humility, intelligence and above all, he is starting his new journey with the right attitude.
It may be only a matter of time before the name “Abubakar” is plastered to the back of thousands of yellow and white jerseys, as fans sing their praises around Mapfre Stadium.
Photo Courtesy of Chris Santucci – Staff Photographer, Christian Cubacub – Multimedia Editor, Andy Mead and Major League Soccer Communications