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In Classroom and on Soccer Field, Dunn School Grad Abu Danladi Still Dreaming Big

Now at UCLA, grateful Ghana native sets sights on helping Bruins win a national championship

Abu Danladi closes in on a kick while starring at Dunn School. Click to view larger
Abu Danladi closes in on a kick while starring at Dunn School. (Brian Bae file photo)

From his hometown of Takoradi, Ghana, to the bright lights of the soccer pitch at UCLA, college soccer star Abu Danladi has proven his academic and athletic abilities to many.

Danladi’s journey began when he heard about soccer tryouts hosted by The Right to Dream Academy in Ghana.

“As a kid my passion was to play soccer at a new level and a place different from my home,” he said. “When I heard about the tryouts ... I knew I had to get there somehow.”

Danladi could not afford transportation to attend the tryouts so a friend paid for the seat and he sat on his friend’s lap.

The trip paid off, as Danladi was accepted into the program at the age of 12.

“I was the only person out of almost 1,000 people to be selected to join The Right to Dream Academy,” he recalled. “It was a dream come true.”

Danladi credits the program for enhancing his skills and shaping his character — on and off the field.

“It helped me not only become a better player on the field, but a better person off the field as well,” he said.

“Believe it or not, being able to control yourself on the field transforms how you live your life off the field, and Right to Dream taught me both.”

Danladi trained at the Academy twice a day for four years before he was selected to study at Dunn School, a private, college prep day and boarding school in Los Olivos.

The transition to an affluent Southern California wine and horse region from a developing nation might appear to be difficult, but Dunn School, although small, is dedicated to diversity, with student and student-athletes from around the world.

Abu Danladi, a 2014 graduate of Dunn School, returned to the Los Olivos campus to talk to students about his experience as a student-athlete at UCLA. “I never thought of playing in college because I didn’t even know it was a something I could do,” he says. “My time at UCLA has been a blessing.” Click to view larger
Abu Danladi, a 2014 graduate of Dunn School, returned to the Los Olivos campus to talk to students about his experience as a student-athlete at UCLA. “I never thought of playing in college because I didn’t even know it was a something I could do,” he says. “My time at UCLA has been a blessing.” (Brian Bae file photo)

“It was the biggest transition of my life, and leaving my whole family back in Ghana to start a new life with a family and friends I knew nothing about was tough,” Danladi said.

“But my fears all went away when I got off of the plane and my guardian accepted me with love and treated me like her own. I knew I had nothing to worry about and was going to do just fine.”

While attending Dunn, Danladi led the varsity soccer team in goals and assists, and proved to be a crucial asset to the Earwigs.

During his senior year of high school, Danladi was named Gatorade National Boys Soccer Player of the Year for 2014.

“My journey has been so much fun and I want to say a big thank you to Dunn for giving me the opportunity to learn and become a good student,” he said.

Danladi plays forward at UCLA. Despite missing more than half of the games due to injury, he was still the second-highest scorer on the team his freshman year and helped the Bruins make it to the NCAA tournament.

“I never thought of playing in college because I didn’t even know it was a something I could do,” Danladi said. “My time at UCLA has been a blessing.”

Kelsey Sullivan, a volunteer for The Right to Dream Academy, met Danladi in 2009 when she was in Ghana teaching and doing development work for the nonprofit soccer organization. Sullivan also worked as a liaison when she was in the United States.

After going to school and training at the Academy, the process of selecting who studies in the United States takes personal leadership skills into consideration, Sullivan said.

“When they look at students to come to the U.S., they look at students who are 15 or 16, who can be a good role model and can go out and represent Ghana and the academy,” she said.

Abu Danladi credits Dunn School and The Right to Dream Academy in his native Ghana with making him the man he is today. Click to view larger
Abu Danladi credits Dunn School and The Right to Dream Academy in his native Ghana with making him the man he is today. (Brian Bae file photo)

Sullivan said Danladi’s sense of humor, good energy and leadership skills were some characteristics that made him a viable candidate.

“I think we are going to see incredible things from him in the future,” Sullivan said. “He is the sort of leader who people are drawn to, and there is something special about him. I think the best is yet to come for Abu.”

UCLA men’s soccer assistant coach Leonard Griffin said Danladi’s personality shines and his presence on the team improves morale.

“Abu really adds to the diversity of the group,” he said. “We have a lot of players from different backgrounds, and his childhood and how he came to the States to how he got to UCLA is an unbelievable story. That in itself brings a lot to the group.”

The Right to Dream Academy allowed Danladi to showcase his talents in the United States, and he said he is definitely not close to being done.

“My dream right now is to win a national championship with UCLA, get a degree and play the game I love at the highest level,” he said.

Noozhawk intern Danielle McNally, a student at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, was a classmate of Abu Danladi at Dunn School. She can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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