MOORHEAD — Former Concordia College head men’s soccer coach Ben Schneweis said Nigaba Olivier is a “cool combination of things.”
The Cobbers defender is a dedicated student, talented athlete and father who works a morning job before his classes and soccer practice during the school year.
“He’s a special young man who has done incredible things,” said Schneweis, who recruited the 2017 West Fargo High School graduate and coached Olivier in his first three seasons at Concordia.
Known by his teammates as “Oli,” Olivier is adding another notable accomplishment to the list. He’s been selected to play for the Burundi national under-23 men’s soccer team and traveled to Africa this week to start training with the team.
“I’m really excited because I never really thought I was going to be able to play at a high, high level,” Olivier said. “I feel there is an opportunity to showcase myself. … It’s always an honor to play for your country. What I’m hoping for is to play well and get to play for the senior team.”
The 5-foot-11 Olivier is set to play in the Council for East and Central Africa Football Associations (CECAFA) U-23s Senior Challenge Cup, which starts July 3 in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia.
“I was surprised because I didn’t know it was a thing that could be possible,” Schneweis said. “For us, it’s a pleasant surprise because, one, what a cool opportunity for (Oli). … He doesn’t get there without how hard he’s pushed himself over the last few years.”
The 22-year-old Olivier said his father and grandparents were born in Burundi, while he was born in neighboring Tanzania. He said the family moved to the United States when he was around 7 years old. Olivier said he’s eligible to play for the Burundi U-23 team based on his family history.
Soccer has helped him thrive since he arrived in the United States.
“It helped me learn how to speak English,” Olivier said. “It helped my life become easier.”
Olivier started for the West Fargo varsity team during his junior and senior seasons with the Packers. He was a team captain his senior season.
He's also developed into a lockdown defender in his time with the Cobbers. Schneweis said Olivier is the best 1-versus-1 defender he’s coached.
“Impeccable timing with his tackles,” said Schneweis, who recently resigned as Cobbers head coach, but is set to remain in the Concordia athletic department as an associate athletic director and director of compliance. “I generally teach players not to tackle. I’ve never got on him for tackling because he doesn’t miss. … He’s really smart, he’s really athletic, he’s really fast.”
Olivier, who is studying computer science at Concordia, recently became a father. He has a 10-month-old daughter, Kiyara, with his girlfriend Tanya Hamandishe.
“It makes you start thinking about the future more,” Olivier said of becoming a father. “It opens up your eyes about how you approach certain decisions.”
His daughter is also a motivator for his experience on the Burundi U-23 team.
“I want to show her that I can be anything in life,” Olivier said.
The Cobbers men’s soccer season was moved from the fall to the spring due to the coronavirus pandemic. Concordia played a handful of games this past spring.
During the season, Olivier would usually work his job from 5 a.m. until around 10:30 a.m. before classes. He was usually done with practice around 7 p.m.
“He’s taking care of whatever he needs to do in ways that are kind of beyond his years,” Schneweis said.
Olivier hopes his experience with the Burundi U-23 team leads to more future opportunities, including a chance to play pro soccer.
“Whatever this experience is for him, he’s earned it in so many different ways,” Schneweis said. “It couldn’t have happened to a more hard-working, genuine kid.”