Nine years ago, junior striker Alecko Eskandarian decided to forgo his senior year at Virginia to pursue a professional career in the MLS. He had been awarded the Hermann Trophy, given to the country's top collegiate soccer player, he was named Soccer America College Player of the Year, and was a three-time All-American. The move paid off, and he was selected as the overall No. 1 pick of the MLS draft in 2002 by DC United. Despite all the accolades, there was still one promise left on his to do list: to earn a degree from the University of Virginia.
That promise will be fulfilled on Sunday.
Alecko played for four years with D.C. United, where, as MLS Cup MVP, he helped the club win the title in 2004. After D.C. United, he spent time with Toronto FC, Real Salt Lake and Chivas USA before finally landing on LA Galaxy, where he suffered his fourth concussion of his professional career in 2009, from which he has still not been medically cleared to play.
This year, Alecko enrolled as a full time student at Virginia to earn the necessary credits to finally be able to say that he has worn the honors of Honor
But his decision to return to the University didn't just stem from a newly found overabundance of free time. Slowly and steadily, "Esky" has been getting the credits he's needed for his degree.
"Since I left school early to turn pro, I have kept my promise to my Mom to earn my degree by taking classes on the side," Alecko told us back in 2009. "So at one point when I was playing for D.C. United, I commuted from DC to UVA twice a week to take classes. Since I have moved all over the country since then, it has been tougher to make it back."
In January 2010, he picked up a couple more credits by taking a J-Term class.
His return to Virginia has not gone unnoticed by his fans, the players, the coaches or the deans.
"He's been a great student," said Assistant Dean Rachel Most in a recent interview. "He's incredibly smart, highly motivated, was a frequent participant in class with good questions and great comments. I'm really looking forward to watching him walk at graduation."
In addition to the pressures of a full course load while suffering from a concussion that at one point led him into depression, Eskandarian has spent this past year serving as a volunteer assistant coach for the UVa men's soccer team.
"This experience has been so beneficial for me," he said in a recent interview with Potomac Soccer Wire. "I have learned so much from the coaching staff and the players themselves. In return, I have been able to pass down and share my own experiences as a player and as a student."
Undoubtedly, the current players who have had the opportunity to work with one of the greatest players to have donned a Virginia jersey.
Let Alecko's story be an inspiration to all of us -- soccer players or not. Here's somebody who, coming to UVa, had the least scholarship of any other freshman, but who left the team as the country's top player and who would go on to be named the MLS Cup MVP. Here's somebody who made a promise to his mother over a decade ago, and who has worked all this time relentlessly to fulfill the promise, though through his success on the field, he likely didn't need to. Here's somebody who, rather than sit around and feel sorry for himself, took action and has discovered a new life.
Here's somebody who, tomorrow, can say, "I have worn the honors of Honor, I graduated from Virginia."
Congratulations to Alecko, and to all the hard-working student athletes who will walk the Lawn and join the ranks of the Virginia alumni tomorrow.