COLUMBIA — From growing up in Brazil to playing forward for the Columbia College men's team, soccer has run in Rafael Ramos' blood.
His grandfather was a defender on the Brazilian national team in the 1954 World Cup. Ramos remembers his grandfather teaching him how to play the game at age 6, showing him how to kick the ball with both feet effectively.
Hannibal-LaGrange (5-3, 1-0 in AMC)
at Columbia College (8-0-3, 3-0-1 in AMC )
WHEN: 7 p.m.
WHERE: R. Marvin Owens Stadium
Hannibal-LaGrange (3-5-1, 2-0 in AMC)
at Columbia College (3-7, 2-1 in AMC)
WHEN: 4:30 p.m.
WHERE: R. Marvin Owens Stadium
Ever since then, Ramos always had dreams of playing professional soccer in Brazil. He played on club teams for eight years until age 17 when he realized he would have to make a choice between continuing his efforts to play professionally or focus on an education. Ramos knew both things were important, but that he had to choose just one.
"If things didn't work out professionally, I wouldn't have an education to fall back on," he said. "Choosing an education was the safe thing to do."
Fortunately, Ramos found a way to both further his education and his soccer career, although that meant leaving his home in Sao Paulo. He came to the United States in 2010, playing soccer and studying at Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield, Ill. After two seasons, Ramos transferred to Columbia College for his junior year.
The move from Brazil caused all sorts of adjustments for Ramos, both on the field and in every day life. Moving from Sao Paulo, the largest city in Brazil, to Illinois was one of the biggest adjustments.
"I was used to a big city with things to do and people and traffic everywhere," he said. "Moving to Springfield where there were corn fields everywhere was a big adjustment."
In addition, he knew only basic English when he first got to the United States, and it took about six months to learn enough to hold a conversation.
"I studied a little English, but everything in the language seemed so fast when I first came," Ramos said.
In addition to the language barrier, Ramos had to adjust to being away from his parents and older sister who were at his home in Brazil.
Besides his family and friends back home, Ramos said he misses the beach and his favorite Brazilian food churrasco, a Brazilian kind of steak.
It also took some time to adjust to playing American soccer after playing in Brazil his whole life. Though he says that Brazilian soccer suits him more, he is adjusting to playing in the United States.
"Brazilian soccer is more skillful with a lot of passing and moving the ball," Ramos said. "It's more physical here, they're a lot more worried about defensive formations."
Playing at Columbia College has helped his adjustments, and though he is in his first year with the Cougars, he fits right in with the team. The closeness of the experienced group, which only has one freshman on the team, has eased the transition.
"I've never played on a team where everyone gets along as much as they do here," Ramos said. "It feels like we've played together a long time."
Even though he is a newcomer on the team, he has not wasted any time establishing himself as one of the Cougars' top players. He is currently tied for the team lead in goals with six, in addition to having three assists. He has helped lead the Cougars to a 8-0-3 record and the No. 8 ranking in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.
Columbia College coach John Klein said that Ramos' presence has given the Cougars a versatile true goal scorer.
"He's dangerous with his head, off the dribble, and from a distance," Klein said. "He's a constant threat to score."
With so much change in his life over the past three years, Ramos is still doing what he loves: playing soccer. He still thinks of his grandfather, who passed away the summer before Rafael came to Columbia, and thinks of everything he taught him back home in Brazil.
"I always think of him and everything he taught me before I play a game," Ramos said. "I know that he's watching me and that he's happy about where I'm at."
Supervising editor is Grant Hodder.