LAWRENCE — Growing up on the other side of the world, Kuiye “Will” Du had barely heard of the game of football just three short months ago.
“They don’t have football on TV in China,” said Du. “I had seen a couple of movies with football in it, like ‘Forrest Gump,’ but I really didn’t know anything about the game.”
So Du certainly would never have expected that, just months after arriving in America from his native China, he would become a beloved member of the red-hot Central Catholic football team.
“Will has been a real breath of fresh air because he is so enthusiastic and loves to be here,” said Raiders coach Chuck Adamopoulos. “He is so enthusiastic and is as dedicated as anyone to this program.”
Growing up in Northwest China, Du had long dreamed of coming to America to attend school.
“America is a great place to go to high school,” said Du, who speaks English impressively. “There are more opportunities for a better education and I wanted to learn about the different culture. Central really seemed like a great place.”
He found that perfect fit in Central Catholic’s International Student program, which Adamopoulos said has gained a great deal of popularity.
“We have a very large group of international students,” said Adamopoulos. “The students come here and live with host families. They pay tuition, go to school and go home for the summer. Then they come back in the fall.”
Du arrived in America for the first time in August, and quickly found his new surroundings very foreign.
“Everything is so different here,” he said. “The culture, the language, the food, the people. It’s so different just walking down the halls at school. We started learning English when we were in elementary school, but I didn’t really pay attention until I got to high school.
“When you first arrive, you don’t understand the culture. I still make a lot of mistakes. When you are speaking the language, there are idioms that you would understand that I don’t.”
Looking for ways to meet new people in a country where he knew no one, Du found a very unlikely bonding opportunity in football.
“I played basketball and tennis growing up,” he said. “But in China there really aren’t any opportunities to play team sports. And no one is really interested in football. But a few guys I made friends with said I should play football because of my size (5-foot-10, 230 pounds). Right away, I had so much encouragement from my teammates. They took me in and were so accommodating.
“I didn’t know anything about football. When people told me I was going to be a lineman, I had to ask, ‘What’s a lineman?’ I didn’t know anything about the rules. I also saw how dangerous the sport was. I wasn’t afraid, but it was a lot of contact. But everyone was so nice and so happy to have me here.”
While the learning process has been rocky at times, the Raiders players and coaches have taken quite a shine to their new teammate.
“He is still learning the game, but Will has come a long way since he started,” said Adamopoulos. “The sport is totally foreign to him. He needed help putting his pads on. The first game he played, we sent him in at nose guard and I think he was in a three-point stance next to the free safety. So we had to work on geography of where to line up a little.
“It’s tough because we have a lot of senior linemen, they have worked hard in the weight room, so it can be hard on him. Sometimes he looks like Rudy from the movie (‘Rudy’) getting knocked down hard. But he always gets up saying, ‘I can do it, Coach!’ He always jumps back in. He works so hard. Next season he might be a player for us.”
As he has fallen in love with the most American of sports, the bonds he has formed have stretched well past the gridiron.
“Coming here was tough because one day you are in China then suddenly you are in America,” he said. “I wanted to be here, but everything is so different. But it took my teammates about five minutes to start to like me. They help me with everything, and even in school they are my best friends. Coach A and the rest of the coaches have also helped me so much. They will do anything for me.”
Du will continue to attend school at Central throughout the year, and hopes to play for the tennis team in the spring. He will then go to China for the summer, and next fall will return to Lawrence, and will be back in uniform for the Raiders.
“Of course I’ll be playing football again,” he said. “Football is the best experience I have had in America. I love it. Being on the sidelines, supporting the team for the (varsity) games is so much fun. Especially when you are really nervous, like last week against Lowell (a 42-34 thrilling win). That was so exciting. And I get to do it with my best friends.”
Du's nickname Knowing his name would be difficult for his American friends and teachers to say, Kuiye Du quickly offered up an easier alternative. "On the first day (of football) when everyone is picking up their equipment, I am always the last station where people give me their names," said Central Catholic football coach Chuck Adamopoulos. "I asked him his name and he said, 'Kuiye Du, but you can call me Will.' "I looked at him and said, 'Will Du (pronounced like Will Do), really?' He chuckled. That's the kind of personality he has. He's a character." Story in his words For a video interview with Central Catholic football's Kuiye "Will" Du, visit eagletribune.com.