Anel Dervisevic was ready for a night on the town. His Granger soccer team just earned a win over Cottonwood and it was a Friday night. He and his teammates wanted to celebrate.
He waited for a teammate to pick him up. Then they went to pick up goalkeeper Michael Argumedo and his brother Manuel. They were on their way to Jordan Landing to catch a movie.
Dervisevic doesn't even remember what the movie was. He and his teammates were talking and joking throughout the night. Then they all went to Carls Jr. for a late night snack.
It was just like any other night on the town for many high schoolers.
And for Dervisevic, who is a Bosnian immigrant from Germany, it was a taste of what it feels like be a typical American teenager.
Dervisevic is part of a growing immigrant population in Utah. Adjusting to a new culture, a new language, a new way of life is the hardest part about starting over. But for immigrant kids such as Dervisevic, there is an outlet and a way to cope: high school soccer.
When Dervisevic came to the United States, he had to learn English and often found himself alone.
"People looked at me like, 'He didn't speak English, he's nothing special.' But I got to know people from soccer and it's helped me a lot," Dervisevic said. "It helps me be more confident."
Soccer as a bridge
There aren't many places in the world soccer hasn't touched. Soccer is the most popular sport in the world, and for Carmel Kavita, it was a source of comfort when he immigrated with his family from the Republic of Congo.
Kavita, who is a senior for the Highland soccer team, wasn't used to the winter weather in Utah and didn't understand the language. But soccer was one thing he could understand.
"I was one of the best soccer players in my elementary school and that's when I first made friends," Kavita said. "I was shy, I didn't want to say anything. But when recess came, we would just run outside to play soccer."
Soccer made the transition to a new way of life easier for Kavita. Fode Doumbia, an immigrant who was a mentor and a soccer coach when he lived in Utah, could relate to those same struggles. But he could also relate to the fact that soccer was a way to relate to the people around him, even if it wasn't with the spoken word.
"Soccer is not just a sport, it's a culture. It's something that brings different cultures together," said Doumbia, who now lives in California. "Whether you play in Africa or South America or in Utah, all the players are speaking the same language."
A way to fit in
Soccer has been a refuge for many players on the Highland High School team. Coach Eric Bliss said of his 20 varsity players, 18 speak English as a second language. Kavita and his younger brother, Phanuel, speak their native tongue at home. So for many of Bliss' players, soccer has been an outlet, a place where they can just be themselves.
And it's also where they can be typical teenagers. The Highland players talk about prom -- where they're going and who they're taking. They make "Your Mama" jokes and sing lyrics to hip-hop songs.
More importantly, being on the high school team gives them a place in school and a sense of belonging, something every person, no matter what background or age, is looking for.
"The soccer field, for so many of these young people, is when they can really be free," Bliss said. "[The kids on my team] have the same wants and desires. They want to be accepted. They want to feel valued."
Playing high school soccer also introduces some immigrant players to the high school jock culture. For many of them, soccer is a fun pastime that is completely unrelated to school. But when they come the U.S., they learn that doing well in school is the only way they can play.
"They learn you have to maintain your grades. Your motivation to play will give you the discipline to have good grades, good attendance," said Tony Yapias, director of Proyecto Latino de Utah. "It's a good way to start into assimilation. Our kids, they don't understand the system. We have to help them understand that it's not just about soccer."
Yapias knows that the kids who are playing high school soccer now aren't looking at the bigger picture -- they're just enjoying being normal, regular kids.
But he also knows that soccer can provide much more.
"[Playing soccer in high school] changed my perspective. It gave me discipline. It made me who I am today," Yapias said. "If I didn't get involved at that age, I don't know that I would be doing."