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Latin Academy soccer captain who transformed team wins Globe scholarship

Posted by Zolan Kanno-Youngs  June 20, 2013 08:37 PM

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The summer has always brought excitement for high school students. It’s no different for Latin Academy soccer captain Nikiander Pelari; it’s another offseason to work on his game.

But as the summer before Pelari’s senior year began in 2012, he did not feel excited but rather unsatisfied. Despite all of his offseason training and practice, Latin Academy had never recorded a winning record in his tenure.

“We haven’t been in the playoffs in 20 years,” said Pelari, a recipient of a Boston Globe $3,000 scholarship known as the Boston Globe/Richard Phelps Scholar Athlete award. “It was my senior year, so I wanted to change that.”

The subpar records didn’t correlate with the expectations Pelari’s Albanian immigrant parents had for him. The way he felt made him think back to his junior year of high school, a time when Pelari began to neglect his assignments and engage more socially.

He remembered when he was left feeling helpless as he looked upon an assignment in French class he had not prepared for. He considered copying the work of one of his peers.

“It really hit me, like, ‘What are you doing?' " Pelari said. “ 'You used to be that student where kids would come up to you for help and now look at you.'

“From that day, I went home and I was really upset and I thought, ‘How can I turn this all around?' ”

That day, Pelari’s determination brought him to Staples, where he bought organizers, daily planners, and all of the supplies needed to get back into his academic mind-set.

It was that determination that carried the senior in his final offseason.

Pelari’s transformation of Latin Academy soccer began with him searching YouTube for different methods of improving one’s athleticism. He studied videos on ball control, passes, yoga, and workout routines.

“We were in the sort of shape where running a couple miles was tough, doing 10 pushups was tough, so we had to start slow,” Pelari said.

He even attended the Massachusetts State Soccer League’s Albania United practices to learn drills that would benefit his team.

Considering the players' lackluster physical shape in years past, Pelari worried about keeping them committed. So he consulted various persuasion textbooks while simultaneously educating himself in new workout methods.

“My whole thing was not just to get them ready for this season but to have that mentality for life, to always become better and always strive for more,” Pelari said.

As the intensity of the workouts grew, Pelari noticed a difference in the level of commitment among his teammates.

“When they looked at me, it was this look where they were really engaged in what I was saying,” Pelari said. “I was able to inspire them by relating how these techniques and morals that they were learning in these practices could be applied to their lives as well.”

Players who once could do only four pushups could now survive 30-minute intense workouts. Pelari and his teammates were in the best shape of their lives, and it carried them to an 8-6-2 record and their first state tournament berth in 20 years.

“In a long and distinguished career, he will be remembered for his dedication and total commitment to the team and the school,” said Latin Academy coach Denis Allen.

His athletic accomplishments make up just a portion of his achievements.

Pelari, who also was on the Latin Academy track team, participated in the science fair, received a National French Exam Award, and volunteered at his Albanian church. He also worked 10 hours a week at a local steak restaurant.

“In over 10 years of teaching, I can honestly say that Pelari is one of the most promising students I have encountered,” said track coach and English teacher Brian Leussler.

Pelari was again chosen as an all-star as a senior and ended his high school career with a 3.7 GPA. He will attend Holy Cross in the fall and looks forward to pursuing a three-year plan that could allow him to transfer to Columbia University for engineering.

This summer he is keeping a journal to document defining moments in his life. He listed that moment in French class his junior year as No. 1.

“That’s what really inspires me every single day,” Pelari said. “To go out there, to be more hard-working, to push harder, to obtain more, and to be the best person I can be.”

Zolan Kanno-Youngs covers Boston Public School athletics. He can be reached at kannoyoungs.globe@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @KannoYoungs.

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Several reporters, editors and correspondents contribute updates, news and features to the BPS Sports Blog:
  • Justin A. Rice -- A metro Detroit native, Rice is a Michigan State University (Go Spartans!) and Northeastern University graduate. Rice lives in the South End with his dog and wife, who unfortunately attended the University of Michigan ... his wife, that is. He curates the BPS Sports Blog and is always looking to write about city athletes with great stories. Have an idea? He can be reached at jrice.globe@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeJustinRice or @BPSspts.
  • Ryan Butler -- A Rhode Island native and avid Boston sports fan, Butler played basketball, baseball and football throughout his time in Barrington Public Schools. Now currently in his middler year at Northeastern University, he joins Boston.com as a correspondent for the site's BPS coverage. Have a story idea? Contact him at butler.globe@gmail.com. Follow him on his Twitter @butler_globe.
Also expect updates from Boston.com High School sports editor Zuri Berry and the Globe staff.