The University of Maryland Baltimore County might be nowhere near any of the national top team rankings in men’s soccer. However the team that is currently 10-4-2 this season has a special diamond that has flown under the radar, until now.
Meet Levi Houapeu.
A native from the Ivory Coast, Levi is a senior midfielder/forward that hasn’t just taken UMBC
on his back, but has shattered school and conference records while doing so.
After a quiet two years notching a combined four goals and two assists with ten points, 2009 was a breakout year. He tallied 15 goals, 13 assists, and 43 points becoming the nation’s leading goal scorer en route to becoming the 2009 America East Midfielder of the Year.
“The reason for his success in 2009 was really a matter of confidence. We had some older players; former teammates he respected, so he kept in the background,” UMBC
Head Coach Pete Caringi said. “But I also think like a lot of young players, he just blended in. He also wasn’t as comfortable playing wide on the left.”
Now in his last season for the Retrievers, he continues to lead his team with 12 goals and three assists to date. More prominently, he became the seventh player in school history to accumulate over 30 career goals as well as attaining 80 career points, tying him for fifth all time.
The seventy points he accumulated his last two years is the most by any other player in the nation, and has touted him as a first round prospect for the 2011 MLS Superdraft, the first in UMBC
His hat trick against Vermont
in the end of October was his third of his career and helped UMBC
to a first-round bye in the America East Conference Tournament.
Aside from being the leader in the stat charts, Levi is also the emotional leader of the team, stemming from last year’s devastating loss to Stony Brook, which cost UMBC
a berth to the NCAA tournament.
“He got very emotional after the game and got into everybody: players, coaches, and the staff. His speech at the end of the year was his coming out party of his leadership qualities,” Caringi said. “We were a goal from getting into the NCAA tournament and his speech carried through the summer into this year. He knows this is his last go around and is more attuned, making sure that everyone is at his best on and off the field.”
As for Levi, becoming the leader is something he recognized must be a responsibility to have.
“After my sophomore year we lost some great leaders and I actually got to learn a lot from those guys. Going into my junior year, I knew that there would be no seniors and us juniors had to step up,” Levis said. “I am always trying to be positive and make sure I do good, this place has been a home.”
But it’s more than his body of work that makes Levi special. His persona is that of a soft-spoken, humble man, who is grateful for what’s been given to him.
“As a young kid growing up in the Ivory Coast, I didn’t come from a rich family,” he explained. “Of thousands of soldiers from the Ivory Coast Air Force, by the grace of God, my dad and our family were chosen to come to America. I am fortunate and blessed to be here and have this life.”
While in high school, Levi wasn’t scouted heavily by universities. He flew under the radar until Caringi found him while scouting a teammate.
“We went out to see his teammate play when Levi was younger, and I kept a mental note. I loved how he played his senior year and how much passion he had played with,” he said. “He was fairly unknown because his size was not what your typical NCAA coach looks for.”
For Levi it was a no-brainer to attend UMBC
, as it’s proximity to home and the academics it provides made it a desirable choice. He also stated his appreciation of the honesty that the coaching staff showed him in their desire to play him and be a key player for the squad.
A unique dynamic to Levi’s personality is his complete dedication to his faith. Caringi described how his Bible is never too far away from Levi, always reading passages when traveling on the road.
“I am really religious and grew up in a Christian house. My mom always tells me that God is my strength, and I just rely on him each and every day,” he said. “My parents told me that if I have faith in God, I could do anything. I attribute my success to the total grace of God.”
It’s a calming and soothing feature that makes Levi enjoyable to speak with. Never taking any credit and genuinely caring for those that helped him be who he is.
“He is a humble and great kid, a fantastic student. He is very conscientious of his teammates and in being supportive,” Caringi said. “He’s such a quality person and has one of a kind qualities outside the game. He is loved by everyone in campus, when he got Midfielder of the Year last year, I had never seen a reception like that before.”