Nov. 2, 2011
By Jeff Gordon
Growing up in Athens, Greece, Aris Zafeiratos had the same goal as many of his friends: to become a professional soccer player. After years of training with one of Greece's top clubs, the midfielder has decided to take the road less traveled, pursuing the opportunity to get an education while continuing to play the sport he loves at a major U.S. university more than 5,000 miles from home.
"It's been great coming to the U.S. to study," Zafeiratos said. "You can continue to play soccer, and if you don't wind up playing professionally, you still have a university degree."
Starting at age 12, Zafeiratos traveled 45 minutes from his home everyday to train with Panathinaikos, which has won 20 Greek Championships and 17 Greek Cups. He also appeared for the Greek U17 National Team, playing with several teammates who have gone on to ply their trade in the Bundesliga and Serie A.
When the chance to come to the United States arose, Zafeiratos jumped on it right away.
"In Greece you can't study and play competitive sports at the same time," he said. "We don't have the intercollegiate competition that you have here, so you are basically either an athlete or a student."
Despite being in contact with IU, Zafeiratos decided to start his college career at Bryant & Stratton College in Syracuse, New York.
"The first year was really difficult because of the language barrier," he said. "Being on the soccer team helped me integrate, but it was still tough."
After enjoying winter temperatures in Greece that rarely dipped below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, living in upstate New York was quite a surprise.
"I had never seen so much snow in my life," he said. "In Athens it never snows, and I didn't like the weather at all."
Zafeiratos managed not to let the culture shock affect his performance on the field, being named to the National Junior College Athletic Association All-Region Team twice after recording 19 goals and 19 assists in two seasons.
After his sophomore year, he decided to transfer to IU, knowing that the experience at a major university would increase his chances for success in the classroom and on the pitch.
"Life at IU has been exactly what I expected after growing up watching American movies and hearing about American university life," he said. "It's pretty exciting here, and I think it would be a great experience for any international student to come to the university."
Although he misses his family, as well as Greek food and weather, Zafeiratos knows that he will benefit from his time here in the U.S. from an academic and athletic perspective. He has featured in one game for the Hoosiers so far, and hopes to make a bigger impact soon.
"This hasn't been my best season, but I plan to keep improving in the spring and play more next year," he said.
Head Coach Todd Yeagley knows that Zafeiratos has a lot of talent, but needs to keep working hard in order to earn more playing time.
"We're excited about Aris' potential," he said. "He's a very talented attacking player, but he needs to learn to defend a bit more, and we're working on that."
Even if he doesn't make it at the next level, Zafeiratos wants to remain involved with the game, having decided to study Sports Marketing and Management.
"If I can't make it (playing professionally), I want to work with a sports agency or a professional team, doing marketing or sales."