Tamerat McLeod arrived with a love for soccer, but it didn’t take long for him to discover football. He started playing in elementary school, and hasn’t stopped since.

By Daniel Gaona |

Tamerat McLeod never imagined being a football star when he arrived in the United States seven years and three months ago.

In fact, he didn’t even know a thing about football when he came from Ethiopia. Nor did he know about elevators; he hated them.

“I got in one and I was literally screaming,” he said.

Tamerat was screaming for a different reason last Saturday: He kicked a 27-yard game-wining field goal to send Pusch Ridge Christian’s football team to the Division IV state championship game — a first in program history.

“God has really given us this opportunity to do whatever with it,” said Tamerat, who is also a running back and linebacker. “We can glorify him by giving it all or we can just take it as a privilege but really do nothing with it. I think we know what we’re going to do.”

The 5-foot-7-inch, 170-pound sophomore has rushed for 789 yards on 113 carries and scored a team-high 17 touchdowns to help Pusch Ridge win 12 straight games. He’s also third on the team with 6.3 tackles per game and has two interceptions for the Lions, who play No. 8 Phoenix Northwest Christian at Scottsdale Chaparral in Saturday’s title game.

“He loves the game of football,” said Pusch Ridge coach Troy Cropp. “It’s almost like he can’t stop playing football. We’ll be at a water break and he’s throwing the ball, he’s kicking the ball, he’s going out for routes — it’s nonstop.”

Tamerat — who also goes by Matthew — led the team with 98 yards rushing in their first-round playoff win against visiting Payson. The following week, against defending champion River Valley Mohave Valley in the quarterfinals, he was limited to minus-7 yards rushing but had seven tackles and caught three passes for 33 yards, including a 20-yard grab on the game-winning drive.

Things didn’t get off to the best start for Tamerat in Saturday afternoon’s semifinal game at Phoenix Arcadia: He fumbled three plays in, setting up an easy Lake Havasu touchdown. Then, with the game tied at 14 and less than 6 minutes remaining, Tamerat fumbled again.

“I was pretty mad,” he said. “I even knew right away why the fumble happened. I was carrying the ball on the play side, and that’s not smart.”

But the Knights were unable to capitalize and the game went into overtime. That’s when senior captain James Raica hauled in an interception to set up Tamerat’s game-winning field goal. It was his first attempt since the opening week of the season. Christian McCarthy had kicked most of the year before Cropp made the change.

“He has a very, very strong leg,” Cropp said. “He can kick it further than anybody on the team.

“That probably was special to him after a couple of mental mistakes.”

Tamerat’s journey to becoming a standout for the Lions began in August of 2008, when he and his two siblings — Michael and Kali — were adopted by Scott and Theresa McLeod, who already had four children of their own.

“We thought this was a way to honor God for adopting us into his family,” said Scott McLeod, who is 57.

Coming from Ethiopia “was a great change,” Tamerat said.

“It was the best thing that ever happened to me but, at the same time the saddest thing because I had to leave my mother, who is still out there,” he added. “Honestly, this is the best decision she ever made for me.”

Tamerat arrived with a love for soccer, but it didn’t take long for him to discover football. He started playing in the fourth grade at Pusch Ridge’s elementary school, and hasn’t stopped since.

“It was all about running away from people so I was like, ‘I could do that,’” he said. “What really amazed me about football is that we had to wear so much equipment just to carry this small ball. That was the most surprising thing I remember.”

Tamerat made the varsity team as a freshman, and thrived, rushing for 503 yards and eight touchdowns. Cropp attended the same church as the McLeod family and got to know Tamerat at a young age.

“He’s a very humble kid and a very hard worker,” Cropp said. “He’s going to be amazing for this team on many levels for the next two years.”

Tamerat’s older brother Michael is a senior forward on Pusch Ridge’s soccer team. Two days after playing in Saturday’s championship game, Tamerat will join him on the pitch. Michael didn’t play football this year because he wanted to focus on soccer instead.

“Both him and his brother, when they came over here, they were just very athletic,” said Scott McLeod, who grew up playing basketball. “They got on the soccer field before they got into football and were running circles around kids their age.”

Tamerat is as surprised as everybody else that he’s been able to pick up football so quickly.

“I did not dream of this,” he said. “I was just happy that I was here, really, having this blessing — God being gracious and giving me the gift to play football.”

Source: Arizona Daily Star
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