Pro Soccer Star Alum Overcame Obstacles to Live American Dream

Miguel Aguilar '14 on growing up poor and undocumented


A month after Miguel Aguilar ’14 graduated from USF early and with honors, he was picked by D.C. United in the first round of the Major League Soccer draft. Now he’s a rookie midfielder in one of the top soccer teams in the nation.

But that’s not the most remarkable part of the soccer star’s story. When he was 11, Aguilar moved from a dangerous Mexican border town to Sacramento, where he overstayed his visa and was raised by his single mother in a poor neighborhood. He remembers coming home to an empty refrigerator and crying every day, feeling hopeless. 

What saved him was soccer — a sport he’d learned on the dirt fields of Ciudad Juarez. A Sacramento soccer coach became his mentor, and — along with Aguilar’s sister and others — helped keep the young player on track, stepping in with help when his grades started slipping. With their support Aguilar became a straight-A student.

Setting the next generation straight

When Aguilar came to USF, the recipient of a sports scholarship, he remembered what he’d learned: Athletics and school — those two go hand in hand. 

“Growing up, I wish someone had come into my school and told me these things are important,” he says.

That’s why as a Don he volunteered to run soccer clinics for inner city kids. He remembers going to a school in San Francisco’s Mission district, where many of the students spoke Spanish and came from low-income households.

“I was just kind of talking to them and connecting with them. They had a similar kind of upbringing I had,” Aguilar says. “Being able to sit and listen to their problems and tell them I went through the same thing and that things turned out fine for me — to be able to motivate them — that was one of the most memorable events during my time at USF.”

Discipline is something Aguilar stresses when he talks to kids. He says it’s not enough to just show up and go through the motions — you have to make an effort to succeed. It’s part of the reason the finance major graduated with a 3.7 GPA.

“I’m 100 percent committed” 

“If I’m there, in the classroom or on the field, I’m 100 percent committed,” he says.

Aguilar’s rise to the top has been complicated because he isn’t a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. He’s protected, at least temporarily, under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, a 2012 government action that allows some undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. when they were children to have a renewable work permit. He’s possibly the first DACA recipient to sign a major league sports contract.

Childhood immigrants like Aguilar are part of what makes USF a diverse and thriving community, says former USF President (now Chancellor) Stephen A. Privett, S.J., who frequently met with Aguilar during his time in school.

“These are the type of students we want to help,” Privett says. “And they prosper. They do well here. They contribute to their communities. They are the best argument for enacting reasonable and compassionate immigration reform."

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