Uche Okafor played for Nigeria and for the Kansas City Wizards before becoming a club soccer coach in Dallas

Uche Okafor grew up far from Lake Highlands. He was born in Nigeria, where he became a hero for leading his country’s team in two soccer World Cups. He became a household name there when his team won the African Cup of Nations in 1994, and fellow Nigerians cheered from afar when he made it big, traveling to America to play for the Kansas City Wizards.

Uche was found dead in his Dallas area home last week, after hanging himself in an upstairs hallway. The Lake Highlands boys he coached in club soccer are devastated.

Stephen Holick was captain and varsity goalkeeper for the Wildcats in 2009, but he also played goalie for Uche’s ASG club team. “He was not only the best coach I’ve ever played for,” Stephen told me, “he was also the best mentor. He will be missed.”

“Uche didn’t just teach us lessons about soccer, he taught us lessons about life. He always stressed it was a gentleman’s game. He said ‘Go out and play hard to win, but also have fun. It’s just a game.’”

Uche retired from the Wizards after they won the Major League Soccer Cup championship in 2000. He had played in every game since the team’s inception in 1996.

“It was a while before I found out about his history,” Stephen said. “He was humble, he didn’t talk about being a great player. He was the first person in the MLS to score on a bicycle kick. He was a great player, great coach, great person.”

Stephen has spoken to several of his former teammates, including LH’s Ian Wagner, who played defender for the Cats and graduated in 2009. The guys are planning a reunion to share stories about the Nigerian hero who had a huge impact on boys half a world away from his homeland.