By Howard Goldin
BRONX, NEW YORK, December 28- On Saturday, Siriki Diabate will be one of more than 100 student-athletes who will be on the gridiron of Yankee Stadium to participate in the 2012 New Era Pinstripe Bowl. The significance to the 21 year-old may be more than to any other athlete on the field that day.
In 1991, Diabate was born in the Ivory Coast in Africa. Siriki came to the United States when he was 13 along with his mother and sister to join his father who had arrived years earlier. The family settled at 176th Street and Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx.
The 13 year-old had difficulty in initially adjusting to his new home, “It was really tough. I didn’t speak English.” Another difference between the teenager and his peers in the Bronx was that Siriki played soccer rather than the popular American sports, baseball, basketball and football.
The youngster first learned the fundamentals of football at Roberto Clemente State Park. He joined a youth group coached by the recreation director of the park, Bobby Morris. His skills improved and he further improved as a member of the football squad at Herbert Lehman High School. The defensive lineman showed great versatility in his senior season by making 71 tackles, carrying the ball 47 times, recording two receptions and returning kicks twice. He was team captain that year.
He had great success on the gridiron at Nassau Community College. The team captain led his team to an 11-0 mark during the regular season, fourth place nationally in the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) in 2010. His exploits earned him Co-Defensive Player of the year in the Northeast Football Conference.
In January 2011, Diabate transferred to Syracuse University. A visit to the upstate university convinced Diabate that he was in the right place even though he was recruited by several other colleges. Diabate and Syracuse coach Doug Marrone had a lot in common as both were products of the Bronx and both were graduates of Lehman and now both were at Syracuse. On Wednesday, Diabate told reporters, “We joke about that all the time. Coach tells me how much better a player he was at Lehman.”
In his first season at Syracuse, 2011, the lineman recorded 24 tackles. This year, Diabate’s numbers climbed. He had 91 total tackles during the regular season. Five wins in the last six contests earned the Orange a bowl bid at the historic venue on 161st Street.
Diabate expressed his emotional feelings regarding playing his final college game at Yankee Stadium. ”I can’t put into words what it means to me. It’s a blessing. It’s so special.” Diabate never played a football game at Yankee Stadium. When Syracuse competed in the 2010 Pinstripe Bowl, Diabate remembered, “I watched as a fan.” Diabate does have childhood memories of the ballpark, “I watched the Yankees religiously on television. When I came to a game, it was very exciting. I used to take the #4 train.”
Having many friends and family attend the game will increase its meaning to the young man, “Everybody who watched me get to this point will be there. I tried to get as many tickets as possible. I got 14, but close to 50 or 60 will come to see me.”
Weather forecasts are now calling for several inches of snow on Saturday, the day of the game. Diabate dismissed the weather as a factor, “Snow, sleight, rain, bring it on!” He then regaled reporters by telling them of the first time he saw snow as a public school student in the Bronx, “I got in trouble as I ran out of the classroom to look out of the window when I saw the snow.”
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