By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
When Modou Sowe was 13 years old, his family left his native Gambia, only to arrive in – of all places – Harrison.
“Sometimes, I ask myself, ‘How did my parents find this place?’” Sowe said.
But it was an opportune move for Sowe, because Harrison is a soccer hotbed. And while growing up in Africa, Sowe was indeed a soccer player.
“I was so lucky to be put in this town,” Sowe said. “It didn’t take long to fit in here. This is a very big town for soccer and people found out right away that I could play.”
Sowe sure could play – perhaps better than any other player in the town’s rich history.
It’s debatable, simply because there might not have ever been a Blue Tide player with the diverse talents of Sowe, who can dominate one minute as a powerful defender and then move up to become a deadly striker the next.
Sowe scored 20 goals last year as a junior and added 19 more this year as a senior, impeccable numbers for a defender.
“We keep him at defense a lot, but sometimes, he was able to push forward and get a goal,” Harrison head coach Mike Rusek said. “It’s so hard to find a big guy (Sowe is 6-foot-4) to have that kind of skill. Usually, it’s a little guy who has that skill.
It’s like watching a tall point guard in basketball bringing the ball up. It’s a very rare quality to have that physical talent and skill.” Sowe now has a very rare distinction, because recently, he was selected as an All- American by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America.
Sowe was one of only three New Jersey players to receive the honor, joining Derek MacKinnon of Washington Township and James Murphy of Scotch Plains.
More importantly, Sowe is the first Harrison player to ever receive the prestigious distinction. Through all the years of great soccer and players in Harrison, Sowe is the first one. That idea is hard to fathom.
Over the past 15 years, Kearny had players like Sergio Ulloa, Michael Miller and Hugh MacDonald to receive All-America status, but Harrison never had one until now.
“This is so rare,” Rusek said. “We’ve had players earn All- State, but never All-American. It’s a great honor for Modou and he deserves it.”
Sowe was surprised when he received word of his honor.
“It’s a great feeling,” Sowe said. “When they announced it in the school, I was shocked by it. Of course, I was very happy. It never would have happened without the help of my teammates. They were great with me.”
The Blue Tide posted a 22-1- 1 record this season, winning the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group II championship before falling to Newton in the overall Group II semifinals.
Sowe said that he was able to make a lot of friends in Harrison through playing soccer. It also helped him learn to speak English, because in Gambia, there were two languages. Sowe’s father speaks Fula while his mother speaks Wolof.
“There are different dialects,” Sowe explained. “Now, at home, we’re only allowed to speak English.”
Sowe is now weighing some offers to play college soccer. He is an excellent student, with a 3.3 grade point average, but he needs to improve his Scholastic Aptitude Test scores before deciding on a college.
Seton Hall is one of the schools very interested in securing Sowe’s services.
“I haven’t chosen a college yet,” Sowe said. “There are many colleges looking at me.”
As well they should be. “I guess Modou has to be considered one of our best ever,” Rusek said. “He falls in line nicely with the rest.”
Sowe will receive his All- America award at the NSCAA convention which is held in Philadephia next month.
“When I was just a boy in Africa, who would have thought that I could one day become an All-American?” Sowe said. “It’s really amazing. It’s a great feeling. You don’t get to have a feeling like that a lot.”
Nope. No one in Harrison has ever had it before.