Andre Diouf's first love was and still is soccer.
Diouf (pronounced GEE-off) grew up playing the sport in his native Senegal on the coast of west Africa from dawn until dusk.
"I would wake up at 7 a.m. and go play soccer with my friends all day without even stopping to eat," Diouf said.
"We would play until it was too dark to see and we had to go home to eat dinner."
A lot changed when Diouf and his family moved to the area in 2004 to pursue better opportunities, without knowing a word of English.
The Diouf family quickly immersed into the culture, with Andre immediately getting into recreational and then club soccer. Diouf did so well that he got two opportunities to go play for top British youth programs - Scotland's AFC Rangers and England's Everton - before visa issues stopped him.
After establishing himself as a standout club soccer player, Diouf was introduced to the game of American football for the first time in middle school.
Despite limited experience, Diouf quickly picked up on the game and earned a starting spot on the SouthLake Christian team as a freshman cornerback. In his first year, Diouf had six interceptions to establish himself as one of the team's top playmakers.
"It's amazing to think Andre just started playing the game about three years ago," said Eagles' coach Rich Landis.
"He had the talent and athletic ability from day one, but he also has come a long way in a short time."
Diouf's skills on the football field have exploded as he improved even more in 2010, recording a Mecklenburg County-best eight interceptions for his 9-3 Eagle squad that advanced to the N.C. Independent School Athletic Association 2A state semifinals.
This season, Diouf is expanding his role on the football field as Landis is also using him in the offensive backfield at running back and in the slot at wide receiver.
"When you have a player as talented as Andre, you have to find ways to get him the ball," said Landis. "We not only have a whole package designed just for Andre, but also will fit him into the normal scheme of our offense. We expect big things from him on both sides of the ball."
Diouf says he is ready for the challenge of playing nearly full-time both ways, and also relishes the chance to hit people rather than have people hit him all the time.
Diouf is definitely confident on the ball, whether it's a soccer ball at his feet or a football in his arms.
"It's always fun to have the ball in any sport, because you want to make something happen for your team," said Diouf.
"I know it's going to be a challenge, but I think I can make a difference."
Diouf joins a talented backfield with junior quarterback Randy Schroeder, senior running backs Adam Gilkerson and Adam Rose and wideout Demetri Allison as the key pieces of the offense, according to Landis.
Southlake Christian will also have one of the best and biggest offensive lines in school history with seniors Troy Lowden (6-foot-4, 270 pounds), Josh Furrow (6-foot-1, 255-pounds), Taylor Jurney (6-foot-1, 220 pounds) and Stephen Bolten (6-foot, 220 pounds) paving the way.
Diouf says the Eagles have the talent to be just as good as their state semifinals' squad last year, if not better.
"If we continue to work hard, I think we can have a great year," Diouf said.
"We want to get back to where we were last year (state semifinals) and hopefully win it all."
The next year should be an exciting time for Diouf, in general, as he pursues his future as a possible, "Division I soccer and/or football player," according to Landis.
While Diouf hopes to make big plays for the Eagles on the football, his heart is still where it always has been.
"I really want to go to college and play soccer," said Diouf.
"Ultimately, one day my dream is to play professional soccer in the MLS (Major League Soccer)."
Jay Edwards is a freelance writer for Lake Norman News. Have a story idea for Jay? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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