Des Moines Hoover boys football resurgence led by international roster

School has just ended at Des Moines Hoover High School, and boys’ soccer coach Jon Rubino is waiting for everyone on his team to hit the field.

It’s Friday, and an afternoon practice separates the Huskies team members from the weekend. But it’s an important practice, the last before Hoover takes on Waukee in a second-round substate game.

And Rubino’s team is late.

The land is not far from the high school; only a small parking lot separates the main building from the soccer field, which also serves as a spring soccer field. The problem is that Hoover organized a cultural assembly at the end of the school day and the football team was well represented.

Some players take to the field in traditional clothing from their African or Asian cultures. Others walk around to practice balancing the plates of food. Second-year midfielder Banto Gaye even got white face paint earlier today.

There’s no better example of the diversity of the Hoover football team than this practice.

Hoover's Javier Flores shoots during Monday's Sub-Region second round match.  Flores' second-half goal won the game for the Huskies.

What is more difficult, mixing styles or cultures of football?

Zambia. Thailand. Mexico. congo. Burma. El Salvador.

The players who make up Hoover’s 23-man squad come almost exclusively from international backgrounds. There are 15 different countries represented on the roster, and a large portion of the players are first-generation college students in the United States.

It was one of the first challenges Rubino’s team had to overcome before even playing a game.

“You’re trying to merge all these different beliefs and cultures and structures, so it’s not always easy,” Rubino said. “But one thing, these guys all respect each other. They respect where everyone comes from, they respect their beliefs and values, and at the end of the day, we’re like one big family.

As in any family, there is a bit of dysfunction and some disagreements. But Rubino said when on the pitch, his players just want the best for each other and for the team. Hoover’s record this season (16 wins and 4 losses in Wednesday night’s substate final against Ankeny Centennial) shows it.

But these cultural differences weren’t the only challenge Rubino faced. Most Huskies players also compete for separate football clubs, which means some of them have been trained in different styles of play.

“We have six or seven clubs feeding us,” Rubino said. “So you all have different types of styles and you try to fit them into your system and your style of play. It takes time and it takes the right mentality.

Majaliwa Irene, left, of Hoover battles for the ball during a game against Waukee on Monday.

It was never a question of whether Rubino’s team had the right mentality. The biggest challenge was teaching his players how to compete against some of the best high school football players in Iowa. Once they did that, it was about learning how to win those close games. Last Step: Learn to keep doing these two things consistently.

Since taking over as head coach in 2016, this has been Rubino’s philosophy. He laid a foundation for football success at Hoover with his first team of Huskies players, a group he believed had the potential to show just how good they really were.

Except that the pandemic has taken that opportunity away from them.

Make the most of missed opportunities

Hoover had five wins in his first year under Rubino. The Huskies had six wins in each of the next two seasons. In 2019 things started to turn, with Hoover setting a 13-7 record. The team was set to continue this new success next season, but COVID-19 canceled the 2020 season.

Instead of falling back, the Huskies picked up where they left off, going 11-9 in 2021.

“We took our pieces, but we learned how to compete,” Rubino said. “We learned to grow and mature.”

Hoover's Ben Musengo drives the ball down the field during a game against Waukee on Monday.

The Huskies also learned how to win. Hoover’s 16-4 record entering Tuesday was fourth-best in Class 5A behind only Ankeny, Iowa City West and Johnston. The Huskies tied a school record against Marshalltown with their 14th victory, then broke it against Des Moines Lincoln with their 15th victory.

It was a moment senior midfielder Kiki So had been waiting for since joining the team as a rookie.

“It was really awesome,” So said. “It makes me want to earn more. If we lose, we stay the course and then we put our heads up for the next game.

So’s teammate, second Ben Musengo, agreed. Win or lose, he knows this Hoover team cemented his place in school history.

“This season is a success,” Musengo said. “Whether we beat (Waukee) or not, it was an achievement for us to break the school record. It’s amazing for the future, to remember that we really did that.

Go past Waukee

The Huskies were coming off a 2-1 loss to top-seeded Ankeny as they traveled to McGrane Stadium on Monday night. It was an all-too-familiar scene: Hoover vs. Waukee, which has been the buzzsaw between the Huskies and the substate final in two of the last three seasons. The Warriors ruled out Hoover in 2019 and again in 2021.

This time was different.

With the most wins in program history, the confidence that comes with scoring even a single goal against the best team in the state, and home-court advantage, he was a different Hoover. against Waukee. The Huskies had already beaten the Warriors 1-0 in mid-April.

“We’ve been waiting for this moment for a year,” Rubino told his team during the pre-game huddle. “And now it’s here. At the final whistle, don’t feel like you could have given more. …The time of the suburbs is over. It’s time for the metro to win.

And that’s exactly what the Huskies did.

With 31:52 left in the second half, the Waukee keeper came out to play the ball but miscalculated the timing. Hoover rookie Javier Flores jumped at the chance and sent the ball into the net. His teammate Stani Venas jumped on Flores’ back as the two ran to the bench in celebration.

It was redemption for Flores, whose first-half goal was called up for a hand ball.

Waukee had a chance around the 20-minute mark of the second half, but Reese Rubino and Enock Musengo got to Warriors junior Max Bartachek just in time. In the end, Flores’ goal was all the Huskies needed to win.

As a horn sounded the end of the match, Ben Musengo stopped in midfield and shouted to the sky.

Enock Musengo and Gloire Serugo, two senior captains, jumped up and down chanting ‘Ole, Ole, Ole’ as the fans made their way to the pitch from the stands.

Goalkeeper Aung Leh, who made four much-needed saves, ran from the goal to the group of starters and bench players celebrating what didn’t seem possible when he was a freshman.

For the first time in three attempts, Hoover defeated Waukee in a win-win matchup.

“One break was all we needed,” Rubino said. “I don’t care how it happened; I’ll take it at the end of the day. We did enough to get the win against a hell of a team.

Football can open doors and break down barriers

There is one constant in this diverse group of backgrounds and experiences – the notion that football is more than a game.

For some players, it’s a blow to a college education. Both Enock Musengo and Reese Rubino have committed to playing football at Clarke University. Bawi Thawng is considering Iowa Western, and Bienvenue Munezero and Serugo are considering Iowa Central.

“We have several kids signed up to play college football, and that’s something that five or six years ago didn’t seem like a possibility for a lot of them,” Rubino said.

“Football can be a vehicle to opportunities that nothing else could give you. It’s an opportunity to have a better life and to be able to do the kind of things you want to do through play.”

Stani Venus, left, of Hoover and Aiden Njuguna Maina of Waukee battle for the ball during a game at Hoover on Monday.

For players like Venas – who moved to the United States from Tanzania when he was around 11 – the sport was both a connection to home and a way to adjust to his new life in Iowa.

“I’ve been playing football since I can remember,” Venas said. “In Tanzania playing football, all I remember is playing football there.”

The same goes for his teammates who share similar stories.

During a Hoover game or a given football practice, several different languages ​​are used within the team. But the sport has never needed translation across cultural lines. Football is the universal language that all Huskies players not only speak but are fluent in.

It’s what makes this group of players – who would never have met in another life – more like a family than a team.

“On the pitch, we are a family,” Ben Musengo said. “We have chemistry, we have energy, we like to play the game. It’s a good family.

Languages ​​Spoken By Hoover Boys Footballers

Hoover High School records do not list students’ country of origin/birthplace, only their primary home language. There are nine main languages ​​other than English spoken by the 23 players on the men’s football roster. These languages ​​include:

  • Arab
  • French
  • Karen (southeastern Myanmar/western Thailand)
  • Kinyarwanda (Rwanda)
  • Kru (southeastern Liberia west of Ivory Coast)
  • Kwanyama (Angola and Namibia)
  • Sino-Tibetan (family of more than 400 languages, mainly in Southeast Asia)
  • Spanish
  • Swahili (mainly East Africa)

Alyssa Hertel is a college sports recruiting reporter for the Des Moines Register. Contact Alyssa at [email protected] or on Twitter @AlyssaHertel.

Comments are closed.