Fast forward and the now 26 year old was the talk of his hometown Adelaide earlier this month when he slotted a sudden death penalty in the Socceroos match against Peru, which ultimately saw Australia qualify for the World Cup in Qatar in November.
The rags to riches story – demonstrating that dreams can come true with a lot of hard work and resilience – was the focus of Awer’s speech when he addressed secondary students at an assembly at his old school, St Columba College at Andrews Farm, yesterday.
Attending the joint Catholic/Anglican College from Year 8 to 12, the likeable old scholar with the infectious smile told the gathering that his story showed “you can achieve anything you want”.
“I am so grateful to be here,” Awer, who graduated in 2013, said.
“Nobody would have thought someone from Andrews Farm and St Columba would represent their country, but that is possible.
“When I was younger I always wanted to play for my country and I knew it was going to be a long way and take a lot of hard work.
“But as long as you keep your head down and stay disciplined, I think you can achieve anything that you want.”
Born to South Sudanese parents in the Kakuma refugee camp, Awer said his penalty goal for the Socceroos was his way of saying “thank you” to Australia on behalf of his family, who came to the country as refugees when he was 11.
Reflecting on his school days at St Columba, one of his Year 8 teachers, Deirdre Walters, said Awer was a “polite student who was always willing to help anyone who needed it”.
“Teachers who knew him have commented that he wasn’t the most naturally gifted academic student in the class but he was the most dedicated student they had seen. His ability to balance soccer and school work was amazing.
“He would leave early to catch buses to training in the afternoon, and would arrive later after early morning drills. Despite this he took the time to catch up with teachers at recess and lunch to ensure he never missed anything and continued to pester them to have everything he needed to be successful.”
Mrs Walters added that as his Year 12 coordinator she was forever reprimanding him for having a soccer ball in class and doing soccer drills under his desk.
Awer admitted that a soccer ball was never far from his side when he was at school and he would “kick the ball against the wall a couple of hundred times during lunchtime”.
His dedication to the sport he loves paid off and in Year 12 Awer was signed to Adelaide United, playing 47 games and kicking eight goals for the Reds. He then transferred to the Danish Super League, also playing in the Europa League and featuring in the 2020 UEFA Champions League.
Representing Australia at Under 19 level, he made his debut with the senior team in 2018 and now has 28 caps.
With such a multicultural student population that includes many from an African background, Awer was always going to receive a ‘rock star’ welcome to his old school. However, as acting principal Darren Pitt remarked, his story is an inspiration for everyone.
“Awer is a great role model not only for our African students, but all students. We are super proud of him,” Mr Pitt said.
“He is an incredibly impressive young man – someone who has had great success and has demonstrated that with hard work and resilience a person can achieve anything.”
During the assembly Awer was awarded the college’s prestigious 2022 Alumni of the Year Award in recognition of his high level of achievement in his chosen field and his service to the community. This includes his work with the Barefoot to Boots charity which he helped establish to support the mental health and wellbeing of refugees.
Awer also took the opportunity to present the school with his Socceroos shirt, and was in turn given a St Columba soccer shirt to add to his kit.Jump to next article