Malic Selimi, a redshirt sophomore on the gridiron for the University of Minnesota Crookston football team, continues to chase his goal for a college diploma, as he knows how much it means to his family.
The “American Dream.” It is an ideal that finds root in the Declaration of Independence, written during the Revolutionary War when Americans were fighting for their independence from Great Britain. The document, written by Thomas Jefferson, declared that “all men were created equal” and they are provided with “certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
It is an idea that can often be taken for granted, but it is a dream that many still adhere to in this nation and abroad. This was the case for Isa and Florija Selimi and their families when they fled war-torn Yugoslavia following the country’s collapse in the 1990’s. Their families moved to America to chase the “American Dream” and pursue a better life for their children and their ancestors to follow. One of the pursuits included an American education. At the time, no member of their family had ever made it to college.
With Isa and Florija’s hard work and focus on providing a better life, they helped their children achieve a goal that had never been accomplished in their family. One of these children, Malic Selimi, a redshirt sophomore on the gridiron for the University of Minnesota Crookston football team, continues to chase his goal for a college diploma, as he knows how much it means to his family, both in America and overseas, that have not had the opportunity to get a much-coveted degree from an American university.
The journey for Malic and his family begins in the former Yugoslavia and what is now Albania, where his father Isa, first left after serving his required military service. Malic's father would flee the communist regime in Yugoslavia to Germany and then Italy to work at restaurants, before making the move to the United States of America when he was 17 to join his older brother who had already immigrated to the U.S. On the other side of Malic’s family, his grandfather had left Yugoslavia after the collapse to chase a better life for his family. Originally moving to the U.S. before the rest of his family, Malic’s grandfather met his uncle on the other side of the family. The relationship eventually helped lead to Malic’s parents meeting and hitting it off and eventually marrying and starting a family.
“I was born in Sheboygan, Wis.,” Selimi noted. “We ended up moving into an apartment in South Milwaukee in Cudahy. It was not the best living. My mom wanted to have a better life for my sister and I, so we moved into the suburb of Oak Creek. I lived there for 13 years.”
In Oak Creek, Selimi was allowed the opportunity for a strong education and exposure to great coaching and leadership that would eventually help him find a road to Minnesota Crookston to pursue a college education and a collegiate football career.
“You have a great opportunity to train with some of the best coaches in Wisconsin,” Selimi stated. “In my senior year, the assistant coach was the first coach to go to state in three different sports, baseball, wrestling, and football. My head coach, his father was a Hall of Fame coach in Wisconsin. He was being looked at being a Hall of Fame coach near his retirement. All of the coaches had winning seasons and great accolades to their names. They definitely helped to put my foot in the door with colleges to help get me to the next level. Oak Creek provided a 20/20 program for kids in the Milwaukee area to help with their education. Getting my diploma from Oak Creek and the coaches really seeking to get my name out to college coaches and teach me how to e-mail coaches, it gave me a lot of exposure.”
Malic first found football as a fifth grader after trying other sports like soccer and baseball. It didn’t take him long to fall in love with the sport, even though it took some time to convince his mother to even let him pursue a sport that is often perceived for it’s tough nature and the injuries associated with it.
“I first played soccer and I was a goalie,” Selimi stated. “That did not work out very long, because I wasn’t a very effective player. That was fun, but it just was not my sport. Finally in the fifth grade, after begging my mom to play football, she finally let me play. I fell in love with it the first day of practice. My coach was amazing and the other players were amazing. I just felt like I fit in. Even when I started I was already bigger than some of the other kids I played with. I stuck through it. By my eighth grade year, we won the championship and by high school I was one of only 12-16 seniors that stuck with football and one of the few who got the chance to pursue it at the collegiate level.”
One of the other seniors on the team was Tyler Surma, who is also a current teammate of Selimi’s at Minnesota Crookston.
“Me and Surma go back to freshman year in high school,” Selimi said. “He has driven me to work hard. He has definitely changed my perspective on football. Having those people here does make me feel more at home.”
Since arriving at Minnesota Crookston, Selimi has embraced the latin phrase of “passio bellator” which translates roughly to suffering warrior. It was a phrase that was first exposed to him by Minnesota Crookston teammate Jeremy Neuman. He has bought into this idea that he is willing to sacrifice in order to help his team succeed.
Selimi has put this into action, as he put in his time this summer staying in Crookston and working every day to get better to help the Golden Eagles improve. After not winning a game his first two seasons at Minnesota Crookston, Selimi has done whatever possible to help his team succeed including making the move to center, a position he had never played at any level of football.
“Learning center definitely increased my respect for the sport,” Selimi stated. “A lot of people think that on the offensive line we are just butting heads all day, but there is a lot more that goes into it. You need to know the front, along with the blitzes, and stunts. You need to know who you need to get to on the defensive side of the ball. At center, not only do I need to know what I need to do, but I need to be able to tell the other four guys on the offensive line what they need to accomplish. I didn’t go into the year thinking that center would be my position going into the beginning of the year, but I am very happy that it is where I am right now because it has made me a more intelligent offensive lineman.”
A large part of his growth as a football player and at center, can be attributed to offensive line coach Sam Gooding, who is in his first season as an assistant coach for the program. Gooding has tutored Selimi and helped him learn the center position.
“If you know me, you know that I am honest person,” Selimi noted. “I like to be me. Having Coach (Sam) Gooding come in, he is more of a realist, as well. Within the first week of him being here I had already learned more than I had under the last offensive line coach in the two years I had with him. Not only did I become a better offensive lineman but I gained more respect for the sport that I love.”
Selimi’s sacrifice and hard work has paid off and has shown as the Golden Eagles were able to shatter a 26-game losing streak in September with a 29-21 win over Minot State University. Though Selimi is happy they were able to capture the win, he and his teammates are not satisfied.
“I’m not satisfied with one win,” Selimi said. “I don’t think anyone on this football team is satisfied with one win. I do not think we are satisfied with even two or three wins. I think it would be a great goal for our team to be able to make it to the Mineral Water Bowl in the next 3-4 years and I will do my part to help this team move forward to accomplish that goal.”
Though the pursuits on the football field are an important part of his journey. The ultimate goal has always been to receive his diploma from the University of Minnesota in criminal justice. It is a goal that nobody in his family has yet to accomplish and one that when it happens he is sure to hear from his many relatives in the U.S., Albania, Macedonia, Italy, Germany, and Switzerland.
“It was actually a pretty big deal in my family when I first got into college,” Selimi said. “I learned that I had a lot of family back home than I thought I did. I received many phone calls with congratulations. Not only is it a big deal to make it into college in my family, but to make it into college in the United States. I have a lot of family overseas that couldn’t even imagine living here let alone going up the education system to this point.”
When Selimi accomplishes his goal it will be because of the role of a lot of people in his life who helped him get to this point. Especially his parents, Isa and Florija, and their families, who helped them flee a war-torn nation and pursue their dreams. It was always a dream of Florija to get a college education, so while she was unable to, it will be a great joy for her when Malic walks across the stage with college diploma in hand and does what nobody in the family has been able to do before him.
It has been a dream of freedom, and for a pursuit that takes hard work and a warrior spirit to accomplish. A warrior spirit, that though first exposed through a teammate, has been instilled in Malic by his family. As they have fought through poverty and many obstacles to set him on a path to achieve the “American Dream.”