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The Chinese Connection:High School football team includes three players from China who never touched a football until they moved to Montgomery County

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Suker Li of The Avalon School. Photo by Jacqui South.

Suker Li of The Avalon School. Photo by Jacqui South.

Published on: Thursday, September 26, 2013

By Donna Broadway

GAITHERSBURG - Moving to a new country with a new culture, a new family and a new language, may be difficult. Trying to play American football while assimilating to the new culture may make a difficult situation even harder. For three players on the Black Knights varsity football team at the Avalon School in Gaithersburg, this is their challenge.

Suker li, a senior, corner/kicker, Leo Huang a junior, lineman, and Hinuea Allieu, a junior lineman, are all exchange students from China who live with host families. Huang and Allieu live with the same family. Allieu, who is the newest export, speaks the least English. Li, who has been in the country for over a year,  is the most fluent.

“They’re blending in really well. Avalon has an ESOL class, so they do a great job of teaching them English. Hinueau is brand spanking new, it’s rough with him because we have to repeat it over and over again, and he’s slow in getting it,” said Wyatt Karem, quarterback and captain of the Avalon Black Knights. “Suker is pretty much fluent in the English language. The whole football team really enjoys having them there. We actually enjoy doing this; it’s actually fun having them learn how to play the game.”

Li’s mother sent him to the U.S. early in preparation for college. Li said his mother wanted him to learn the culture and the language. His family still lives in China and he said he sees them every summer. Though he is without his family, Li says the Avalon School community has become like a family for him.

“I’m not by myself. The Avalon School is a really great community it’s a small school and it feels like a family. It’s a really great family and they treat me like one of their family members,” said Li.

The corner/kicker started playing football in the tenth grade after he first became interested in the sport while watching the 2012 Super Bowl between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots. Before playing football, Li played soccer for over ten years.

“Suker has been here for three years and he loves football and he’s watched it every year since he’s been here but he knows it better than half the other kids of the team. He has a really good football I.Q. he really wants to play, the other kids want to play too but Suker really loves it so much. He probably has the most heart on the team,” said Karem.

Coach Ed O’Daniel who teaches at Avalon is the biggest supporter of the three players. He began using football terms last year to help expand their vocabulary. “They’re very good students and they all work hard. They want to learn how to play football to learn our culture. They’re a pleasure. Very polite and cordial,” O’Daniel said.

One of the aspects Li likes about American football is the hard hitting tackles.

“Compared to soccer, it’s quicker and feels more manly. I like tackling and I like hitting it always feels good when you hit. I like the smack, it sounds creepy but I like it,” said Li.

Li doesn’t even wince when he’s hit hard. In a recent practice he dislocated his finger and while several other players turned their heads, Li did little more than keep a straight face as a coach relocated the finger for him.

“It’s cheaper than the doctor,” he said with a grin and then went back on the field and continued playing.

Li won’t play football when he enters college next year but would like to be apart of the growing American football movement in China. Li admits he sometimes has problems understanding the pregame speeches due to the slang and lingo used.  

“American football is becoming more and more popular in China now and they actually have some college football going on in China, a couple high schools have football teams. Maybe I’ll go back and coach football. That would be a great job,” said Li.

Li’s favorite football team is the Pittsburgh Steelers, with the Redskins as a close second and his favorite player is Troy Palumalu. Huang’s favorite team, next to is Avalon, is the Philadelphia Eagles.

Huang and Allieu are still learning English and Li says the three have become a mini-family who lean on each other for support. The three often hang out after school, when they’re not practicing football or involved in extracurricular activities.

“They have been a great addition to the team,” said head coach Tad Shields. “They have a lot of enthusiasm.”

So much so, that it has caused one coach to offer a wager to Li.  O’Daniel, a former NFL draft pick and the defensive/offensive line coach offered to quit smoking if Li catches a pass during the season.

“Oh, it’s going to happen,” said Karem. “Coach is going to have to put down his cigarettes for good now!”

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