Sam Shisso moved from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Charlotte with his parents and four siblings in 1999. His father, Christopher, was a minister and came first, bringing his family a short time later.
Growing up in Charlotte, Shisso knew he wanted to play a sport but didn't know which one. He tried baseball, then basketball.
Football was the last thing on his mind.
"I didn't care anything about it at first," said Shisso, 17. "The first football game I went to was a high school football game at Independence, but I only went because my (oldest) sister (Milka) was singing the national anthem.
"I was in the stands just playing with my Game Boy and not paying any attention at all."
In seventh grade, Shisso went out for the football team at Albemarle Road Middle School. He quit the first day.
The next day, he changed his mind, came back and asked the coach for another chance.
Thanks to that second chance, Shisso is in the third week of his senior season as the top receiver at East Mecklenburg and recently committed to play football at Miami University of Ohio.
Shisso played basketball and football and ran track in middle school. When he got to East Meck, he dropped basketball but still runs the 300-meter hurdles and 110-meter hurdles for the track team. The physical aspect of football is what drew him to the sport, he said.
"You can go four quarters hitting someone else or getting hit without having to worry about the person complaining - or they shouldn't be complaining," he said.
At 6-foot-5 and 205 pounds, Shisso is always one of the biggest kids on the field. In middle school he played tight end, moving to receiver in high school.
Head coach Jeremy Buck said he could still line Shisso up at tight end, but he wanted to use Shisso's athletic abilities to create match-up problems. His experience at tight end makes him one of the Eagles' best blockers.
"We had a scrimmage at Jay M. Robinson and there was a long run, I think it was a 75-, 80-yard run, and Sam got an initial block and then he hustled down field and got a 'de-cleater' - knocked a kid down," said Buck. "And I think he made two or three other kids tumble and fall over as he escorted our running back into the end zone."
The biggest problem for East Meck so far has been getting Shisso the ball. In Shisso's first year on varsity last year, as a junior, the Eagles switched quarterbacks several times throughout the season. Shisso averaged 17 yards per catch but scored only two touchdowns. Even in the season opener this year against Marvin Ridge, Shisso had only one catch.
"We're working on some things to try to get the ball in his hands," said Buck. "He's too good of an athlete, too good of a kid, too good of a ballplayer not to try to get him the football."
Despite his limited stats, Buck sent a highlight tape of Shisso to college recruiters at the end of last year. He said he got email responses just 10 minutes later.
Buck said several Division I schools came to look at Shisso, but only Miami (Ohio) and Ball State offered him a scholarship.
"Sam's one of those under-the-radar kids right now," said Buck. "Some of the bigger programs potentially missed out on this guy because he didn't have the numbers they wanted or wasn't exactly fast enough."
Miami was interested right away, said Buck, and the more they learned, the more they liked him.
"The first thing they ask is, 'What are his grades?' I'm like, 'That's the best part,' " said Buck.
Shisso's weighted GPA last semester was 4.875, said Buck. The senior has taken many IB classes and also is a member of Student Congress (he hopes to run for vice president in September) and Senior Board, which plans events for the class.
"Academics has always been a big thing in my family," said Shisso. "My dad says academics first, fun later."
Shisso also sings in the high school choir at Christ Lutheran Church; the choir went on tour this summer to Baltimore, Philadelphia, Richmond and Raleigh. The last Sunday of every month, Shisso's family performs at the nursing home where his mother, Ivette, works.
"I look up to the kid," said Buck. "He's actually been a big influence on me to get back in touch more with my faith, and he doesn't even say anything about it - it's the way he carries himself."
Academics is part of what led Shisso to commit to Miami. The school had a computer engineering program Shisso was interested in; Ball State did not. He also liked how interested Miami was in having him on the team.
"What really got me is the fact that they were not hesitant in saying they really wanted me," said Shisso. "I realized that I wanted to go to a place where I was wanted."
Shisso hopes to have more highlights this year. After a close loss to Marvin Ridge the first week and with a consistent quarterback in junior Tyler Mayes, he believes that could happen.