Johnson City, Tenn. (Nov. 2, 2015) - Growing up in arguably the most competitive region of soccer in the world, ETSU red-shirt junior forward Joao Ramalho (Monte Santo, Brazil) always seemed to find a way to succeed.
His father would take him anywhere and everywhere, even if it meant sacrificing a lot of his own time because he knew the talent his son has is special. As Ramalho aged into his later teenage years, he was not able to play consistently for some of the bigger clubs for different reasons.
A life altering decision had to be made.
“It is impossible to play soccer and go to school by the time you reach the age of 17 or 18 in Brazil,” said Ramalho. “Class isn’t an excuse to miss a practice; you would lose your spot on the team.”
For the longest time, leaving Brazil to come to America wasn’t an option for Ramalho until his friend introduced the idea to him. Even then the decision wasn’t so simple. It would be so tough to leave his family, friends, culture, and the place where soccer is religion. Opportunity is what ended up guiding Ramalho to making a choice he would never regret – he was coming to America.
They call America the land of opportunity, and that’s exactly what it has been for Ramalho. The Brazilian sensation immediately made his presence felt when he set foot on the campus of Montverde Academy in his junior year of high school. He started for his varsity soccer team and was one of the driving factors. He scored 20 goals and tacked on eight assists to lead his team to an undefeated season, a number one ranking in the country and a national championship. While at Montverde Academy, Ramalho learned the importance of balancing academics and soccer.
“It was awesome, I just loved it,” said Ramalho. “I had time to play soccer and go to school. My coach forced me to do well in academics. He showed me why it was important.”
Ramalho was truly starting to become a well-rounded individual.
It seemed like nothing could go wrong for Ramalho. Coming into his senior year of high school, he looked to pick up right where he left off in the classroom and on the field. Everything was going well until the final preseason game of his senior year when Ramalho was cutting back inside toward the middle of the field.
“I felt a pop in my knee. I fell to the ground. It was the most intense pain I have ever felt,” said Ramalho.
Ramalho had a torn his ACL and had to be sidelined for about seven months. It was a tough time for him, and he was unhappy he couldn’t do what he loved.
Things would only get worse before they got better. After just healing from his injury, Ramalho started taking the field again for some summer games in Brazil. Another routine movement, Ramalho went up for a header and came down awkwardly, same result. Ramalho partially tore his ACL for a second time and would be forced to miss two consecutive soccer seasons. It was rock bottom for Ramalho in his playing career and unfortunately in the classroom.
“I wasn’t playing well enough, wasn’t strong enough and wasn’t fit enough,” said Ramalho. “My confidence wasn’t up enough. I was sad and down. Because of it, I wasn’t as focused in school.”
If it weren’t for these trialing moments, Ramalho wouldn’t have learned very important life lessons. It really opened his eyes to being more patient and make mature decisions. It is something he reflects on, it is something he grew from, and it is why he found his way back.
Ramalho returned to the field for ETSU during the 2013-2014 season after he was medically redshirted. During his redshirt freshman season Ramalho appeared in 12 contests and maintained a .400 shots on goal percentage en route to be named to the Atlantic Sun All-Freshman team. He played well, but not to the high standards he demands from himself. It was frustrating for him because he knew he could do better. He could have gotten down on himself, but by now he knew better. He built on a start and then he found success.
“That following spring I came back and felt back to my normal self,” said Ramalho. “I was scoring goals and playing well.”
He definitely proved it the following season.
In the 2014-2015 season, Ramalho caught fire. Right out of the gates, Ramalho was the reason why ETSU took down ranked opponents William and Mary and VCU in back-to-back games. He played so well that weekend he won Southern Conference Player of the Week and the College Soccer News National Player of the Week.
Ramalho didn’t stop there as he ended up finishing tied 17th nationally in goals (11) on the season, marking the most goals recorded by any player in ETSU’s history. He would earn Southern Conference Player of the Week one more time during the season, was named First Team All-SoCon, and later named SoCon Player of the Year. He was back with a bang, fully confident, and now in control. He made a climb back that many athletes aren’t able to recover from both mentally and physically.
“If I didn’t come to America, my life would have been so different,” Ramalho said. “I learned so much here. I became a better person.”
The greatest of opportunities don’t come without some adversity. Due to all the trials he faced throughout his decision coming to America to now, he grew into a well-rounded individual to overcome the hardships with - success.
Ramalho went through a rough path, but it made him better and stronger. This is why he is a model student-athlete and makes him #ETSUTough. He continues to play at a high level as he works towards his ultimate goal of becoming a professional soccer player. Ramalho has found a new drive in the classroom from coaches and past experience as he continues to earn a bachelors degree in economics.
By KARTHIK VENKATARAMAN
ETSU Athletic Media Relations