Fourth-year Northwestern High School boys soccer coach Nigel Trim spotted current senior midfielder Sammy Kahsai’s remarkable talent when he was an eighth grader practicing on his own while his older brothers Yakob and Thomas trained with the Wildcats varsity squad.
But when the younger Kahsai arrived for high school tryouts in August of 2009 Trim relegated him to junior varsity.
“He was shocked. He had the skills but it’s a mental game and a physical game and he was not ready,” Trim said. “You give him a challenge and he’s going to rise up, he’s not going to fold. And that’s what I love about him.”
After spending his sophomore season on the varsity bench, Kahsai started in the Wildcats’ midfield last year.
It was a good season for Northwestern, which went 9-3 before losing in the Class 4A South Region quarterfinals to eventual state champion Bowie.
But Kahsai’s breakout in 2012 coincided with the Wildcats’ best campaign in nearly 20 years.
Though the Prince George’s County champion Wildcats’ (13-3) run ended in Saturday’s 2-1, state semifinal loss to Anne Arundel County’s Severna Park, Northwestern was back in the state tournament for the first time since 1995. That year it won it’s second overall state title.
Kahsai always had tremendous foot skills and understanding of the technical aspect of the game, Trim said. What he lacked in previous years was the physicality necessary to compete against bigger and stronger players, Trim added.
A major reason for that is Kahsai spent much of his formative years playing on the streets of Ethiopia, where more attention was paid to technical skills and nifty footwork than pushing players to the ground and slide tackling.
He moved to this country when he was seven and has adjusted during the past decade to the more aggressive style of soccer played in America.
Everything came together for Kahsai this fall, Trim said.
“A lot of players that come from Africa do a lot of foot skills but don’t really get the body and then it’s eye opening when they get to this country. You have to accept being tossed around in this game. You have to learn to be physical and skillful,” Trim said. “It took him some time to adjust to the physicality but you have to go through it. I challenge him every practice because I know he can be a great player. I don’t ease up on him.”
In addition to Kahsai’s evolution on the soccer field, Trim said the senior embraced the responsibilities that come along with being a team captain.
The team’s improved cohesion under Kahsai’s leadership was pivotal in this season’s success.
Northwestern boasts a lot of individual talent but the Wildcats’ ability to put it together and connect with each other did wonders for the program this season, Kahsai said.
Trim said Kahsai (seven goals, 8 assists) has always been one of the team’s hardest workers but the example he set this fall helped his teammates learn to hold themselves accountable.
Though Kahsai’s Northwestern soccer journey has ended, Trim said the dynamic midfielder has a bright future.
And so do the Wildcats, Kahsai said. This year’s success was just a stepping stone for the resurgent program is scheduled to return a number of key players, including leading scorer Ngeh Mbah (10, six), Kahsai added.
“We had to work our way up but now our school is getting known. This was a big step, a really, really big step,” Kahsai said.