By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Take a step back in time and remember when you were 11 years old. Maybe you’re in fifth grade and life is pretty good, you live in a nice house, go to a nice school, parents take care of all your needs. Your biggest stress might be an upcoming science test, and you probably spend afternoons playing schoolyard football with your buddies. Or maybe, such as during this time of year, you’re helping dad on the weekend clean out those gutters from fallen leaves.
Now imagine being that same age and stepping off a plane in a foreign country, where you don’t speak the language and the only people you know are your aunt and uncle. Your mom died giving birth to you, your six siblings are scattered in different countries, and outside that airport is the chilly January air of the northeastern United States — and you don’t even have a coat.
To make matters even more difficult is the country you came from, the place that will always be your first home, Haiti. It’s a country full of strife, depravation, and where recently kidnappings and murders by gangs have become commonplace.
That’s what life was like a half dozen years ago for current Egg Harbor Township football star Michelot Sine (pronounced MEESH-Lo Seen-A). And the road he has traveled since has been a constant source of inspiration for his teammates, coaches, and the entire school, really.
Think about this for a second — a kid who six years ago couldn’t even speak English is now on the verge of going to college in America, and possibly playing college football on a scholarship. When Eagles coach Kevin Stetser hears ANYBODY on his team complain about anything, all he has to do is point to Sine as an example of what overcoming adversity truly means.
“He started coming to our youth weight room sessions when he was in middle school. He was a shy kid who didn’t say much. He would come in and work out with some of our older guys. We have a young man who played for us who is at Temple right now, Yvandy Rigby, and they are both Haitian. They made a little bit of a connection and I think that made Mich feel a little more comfortable,’ Stetser said. “His story is awesome. He’s such a good kid, such a hard worker. He doesn’t miss anything. He rides his bike to and from practice, he works his tail off at practice, and it’s paying off. For him to really only be in the country for six years and only be playing football for four, to see how he has grown — the leap he took from last year to this year has been tremendous. He doesn’t come off the field for us, he leads the right way, he works hard, he’s a high character kid. He’s a great example for other kids.
“We’re practicing in August, it’s hot as heck, and never a complaint, never ‘I can’t.’ He’s here every single day, working his tail off. And he enjoys it. It’s infectious with him. He’s got a great personality and he’s an awesome kid. We’re so thrilled that we ended up getting him for the last four years,” Stetser added. “He came here and he was new to all of this, and everything he has done has been to advance himself forward to become successful, and that’s what he’s done. He’s a tremendous young man and an amazing example to younger kids that there is no reason you can’t succeed if you’re willing to put the work in, and he’s that, 100 percent.”
Sine has seemingly boundless energy. He plays both offensive and defensive line — the two most grueling positions in football — yet after every game he’s jumping around as if he’s a kid at a summer pool party. His wide smile is infectious, and even after losses he keeps things in perspective, showing gratitude for the opportunity to compete in a high school varsity football game.
“It was crazy,” Sine said of when he came to America. “It was a whole new experience for me, I had to learn a new language, I was eating different types of food. It was a whole different process. I spoke zero English, I only spoke Creole and a little bit of French. When I moved here, it took me about four years to learn English. I didn’t understand anything that people around me were saying, so I was always wondering what they were talking about. It was a long process to learn the language, and it was hard. In English there are a lot of words that sound the same but don’t mean the same thing, so it was very hard.
“I have had to learn different things each and every day. It was hard to make friends because I didn’t speak the language, so when kids would say ‘hi’ to me I wouldn’t know what to say. I had to learn the language. I had an ESL teacher who helped me a lot and helped me read and write. I also watched a lot of cartoons growing up, so that helped me,” he added. “Back in Haiti it’s always hot and when I moved here you have to wear a jacket (in the winter). Nobody wears jackets in Haiti because it’s always hot. I moved here in January and it was cold. In Haiti, when I got on the plane, it was hot, and when I got here it was cold, so I was like, ‘what’s going on?’ It was crazy.”
Sine is a solidly built, 6-foot-2, 250-pound interior lineman on both sides of the ball who rarely came off the field for the Eagles this year and led the team to a 7-4 record and their first state playoff berth in 11 years. With Sine paving the way on offense, EHT rolled up more than 2,000 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns on the ground, and on defense he was one of the Eagles’ leading tacklers.
“He’s meant a lot to me. Since my freshman year he’s been blocking for me, and he’s been a great person. I couldn’t ask for a better teammate. We joke around all the time, but we’re here to make each other better,” said senior running back Rondell Vaughan Jr. “He’s been with us since freshman year, and he’s been getting better and better.”
Sine said it was very important to all the seniors this year to go out with a winning record and a return to the state playoffs.
“All these guys, we all played freshman year and we went 7-1. Junior year, when we were working out, all we talked about was making the playoffs our senior year. We didn’t want to have a losing record our senior year. We worked hard for this. We wanted to have a winning season, that’s something we’ve been focused on for a long time, and we want to start a new legacy here,” he said. “I’m a fun kid and I love having fun. Football is fun, it’s my passion and It’s something I love to do.”
Sine said his first love was soccer, but ever since he strapped on the football pads his life has been brought into clearer focus. He now has a legitimate avenue to a college education.
“I have a lot of passion for this game. I love football. I used to love soccer a lot but when I put the pads on for the first time I knew this was the sport I wanted to play. I love the contact, I love hitting people. It’s fun. I think about my future and what I want to be, and football can be a sport that helps me get to where I want to be. I want to get a scholarship and go to college. My goal is to make it to the NFL. It’s going to be hard, but I always work hard. I work my butt off to make it. I give 110 percent each and every play,” Sine said. “This is all part of God’s plan. He knew I was going to be here, around these people, and I’m here and enjoying the moment.”
Stetser said Sine is a walking reminder, every day, of what is possible if a student-athlete is willing to put the work in, and sacrifice for the team. If somebody is willing to do all the little things when nobody is watching — like riding your bike to summer practice in 95 degree heat, without complaint.
“We’re able to show other kids that regardless of your situation, if you’re willing to put in the work and you’re willing to sacrifice, and you’re willing to do what is necessary, you can succeed. There’s no reason to be held back from anything if you’re willing to put in the work and do the things you need to do,” Stetser said. “I love coaching kids like him. Our ultimate goal is to win football games, there is no doubt about that, and we’ve talked for years about what we want to do here, but this job is about kids and about using football to have a better life; to be able to do things that maybe you would never have been able to do and to have the sport be an asset for you. Coaching kids like him gives you energy and you’re proud for them, and I love it. That’s the stuff that keeps me going more than anything else — seeing the impact that a program we’re trying to build can have. There may be down years with wins and losses, but as far as the type of culture we’re trying to build here, kids like Mich are the key to it. We get all kinds of kids here at EHT, and that should be our strength. We have kids from all walks of life, and when it comes together it makes us strong. Kids who have to struggle to succeed, when you build the program and it takes hold, it’s stronger and it’s more genuine.”
Senior running back Mohamed Soumaworo knows how difficult the journey has been for Sine because he’s traveled that same road. He came to America from West Africa as a 10-year-old.
“I can really relate to him because I moved here in 2013 from West Africa. I couldn’t speak English either at first, so it was kind of hard to get around,” he said. “I had a cousin who helped me. It was difficult. When I got here, school was really hard because I couldn’t understand anything. I had to repeat a grade, but after a few years I came to know English and how to get around better.”
Sine said he thinks of his home country often and is saddened by some of the things happening there. But he has to remain focused on his own future and the opportunities that football are creating for him here in the United States.
“Haiti is not in a good place right now. I think everybody can see that. It’s a hard place, people don’t have enough food, kids can’t go to school, they have kidnappings and all that. Getting me out of Haiti was (my family’s) way of trying to give me a better life. There were a lot of bad things happening and they didn’t want me hanging around with bad people. It’s crazy, but it’s all in God’s hands right now. All of us Haitians wish it was better, but it is what it is right now. We pray to God that things will get better and change,” Sine said. “The schools are great here (in the USA). This country gives you a lot of opportunity to be what you want. You just have to know what you want to be and keep your mind straight. If you can do that, you’re going to make it. This country gives people a lot of opportunity to be great. In Haiti, we don’t have a lot of opportunity to do that, and this country gives you those opportunities.”
Stetser said the EHT coaching staff is working hard to find the right fit at the college level for Sine, and while they will certainly be proud with whatever school he chooses, it won’t be easy to replace Sine when workouts for the 2022 season begin next summer.
“We’d be in trouble without No. 58,” Stetser said. “And just the pleasure we get as a staff coaching him, it would be very different if he weren’t here. It would be a much different place, and it wouldn’t be better, I can tell you that. I know the goal is for him to go on to play college football. He’s done all the things he needs to do to make that happen, and we’re going to do the things we need to do to make that happen for him.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays
Vic’s Subs Cover Story: Michelot Sine leaving his own kind of legacy for EHT football program
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN