Athlete of the Issue: Debo Salako ’20

Debo Salako ’20 is a four-year member of the Boys Varsity Soccer team, for which he plays center back. In addition to playing soccer, he wrestles in the winter and runs track in the spring. His teammate JD Comeau ’21 said, “Debo is an instrumental [member] of the Varsity Soccer Program. He supports his teammates and makes everyone feel they are welcome and have a place on the team. Debo’s communication on and off the field sets him apart from other teammates. Debo [has been] a friend and mentor this season.”

What has been your greatest triumph while playing soccer at Hotchkiss?
The Hotchkiss team [has experienced] a steady improvement in the past four years. Pushing for playoffs is something we haven’t been able to do the past few years, [but] now, we are closer than we have been in the past. We have young coaches and a young team, with only two four-year seniors – [me] and Remi [Adefioye ’19] – so I hope we can continue to build on our upward trend. I have a lot of respect for our coaches, Mr. [Marcus] Christian, who came to Hotchkiss the same year as I did, and Mr. [Mario] Williams, who was a two-time New England champion and captain [of] Hotchkiss soccer.

How can fans motivate you to play harder?
Once the first whistle sounds, I completely block out all the noise that isn’t coming from our bench. There’s very little correlation between my performance and who’s watching.
During warm-ups however, the fans getting rowdy gets me hyped and motivated to represent my school. For example, the bodies at the Deerfield game helped generate the most insane atmosphere. Spotting Henry Wilder [’20] in the crowd screaming at the top of his lungs always kindles a fire within me.

In the past few years, Taft has bested you on Taft day. Does the team have a chance against them this year?
Having lost three times to Taft is something that will continue to haunt me. This will be my fourth and final round with Taft, [and] the team will work to make it a strong finish. Every year, it is always a rough and dirty game. This year, [our] team has only five Seniors, [with] Juniors and Sophomores making up the majority of the team. Hopefully, the youth and recklessness [will] give us the extra inch in what will prove to be a battle.

What has been your proudest moment as a Senior on the team?
This whole season I’ve been impressed by three freshmen: Mo [Nuhu ’23], Naki [Pekarovic ’23], and Alex [Cheng ’23]. Mo has been starting every game, scoring [most] of our goals and doing a lot for us in the attacking third [of the field]. Naki and Alex are both promising [Preps] who will continue to improve their minutes on the field. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Alex in a bad mood. The hard work from such young underclass students on the team shows there is promise and a lot of talent in the program as a whole.

Do you have a pre-game ritual?
One thing I started [doing] at the beginning of this season was taping my left wrist with the names of my late grandfather and close friend. They are always in my thoughts and propel me to continuously push myself.

What’s the hardest conditioning you’ve ever done?
Our coaches have brought a new formation to the team: [a] 3-4-3 [formation]. Playing [in] this style has a specific emphasis on fitness; all players on the pitch have to get back on defense and forward in attack. Once there’s a single weak link, the whole thing falls apart. Because of this, Monday and Thursday practices usually have more emphasis on conditioning. It might be running from one penalty box to another repeatedly under a specific time, or running 300 yards in a minute repeatedly. All these drills prepare us for war when we’re on the pitch.

Why do you love soccer?
There’s nothing that makes me as happy as playing soccer. There’s nothing that makes me more excited than going down to practice, after school, after a long day in the classroom. Every day, soccer has been what I look forward to and what makes me feel the most alive.
It’s [a] beautiful game, [and] it brings people together in an entirely different way.