THE AMERICAN FOOTBALL DREAM
Unbeknownst to most, Oakmont High graduate and current starting left tackle for the Sierra College football team, Derrick Achayo, was once immersed in an ill fate.
The 6-foot-4, 285-pound lineman grew up in a small village in Kenya, Africa. The town was riddled with gang activity, nightly shootings and child prostitution.
“Where I grew up it was bad,” Achayo recalled. “I was really young at that time, but I still know that there was a lot of crime and there were people dying in the streets.
“I wasn’t very old when I moved to a better part of Kenya where I grew up with my uncle and he took good care of me.”
Before the move, Achayo lived with his Godmother in Nairobi — the capital of Kenya.
“I woke up one time to gunshots,” he said. “There was a gang called the Munziki and they were really bad. If they saw any tourists, they would kill you because they didn’t want any outsiders on their land.
“I was probably six years old at that time, but to be honest, I woke up and I just went back to sleep. I basically tuned out any of those emotions because it was an everyday thing. I just told myself, ‘It’s life. Move on.’ I grew accustomed to it.”
At just three years of age, Derrick’s mother Sylvia Atieno moved to the United States to provide a better life for her family. It was 1999 and despite a booming economy, Sylvia struggled to find work.
“She doesn’t talk about it much, but she has told me the stories,” Derrick said. “She worked for a few kitchens at first, then worked at Walmart before getting a big break as a registered nurse.”
Whatever extra money Sylvia made from her numerous jobs, she would send back to her son and relatives in an effort to create a safe environment for them. That helped Derrick move out of the crime-ridden village.
“My mom gave my uncle and my Godmother money so they could move into houses in better neighborhoods,” Achayo continued. “She eventually came back to Kenya so that I could get my visa and my passport ready. Then she sent for us.”
Derrick was just ten years old when he arrived in the United States. But to this day, he thanks his Godmother, Mrs. Adhiambo, for her generosity and willingness to raise him as if he were her own.
“I owe a lot to her,” Achayo confessed. “If it wasn’t for her, I would probably be dead.”
With her son finally by her side, Sylvia settled down in Roseville, where Derrick discovered the game of football.
“I came from Kenya and I didn’t even know what the Super Bowl was — I thought it was a soccer game,” Achayo admitted.
As a freshman at Oakmont High School, Derrick tried out for the Vikings, and despite a few bumps and bruises along the way, he carved out a spot on the offensive line.
“It’s been rough,” Achayo admitted. “There are times when I have wanted to quit football, but I just have outside forces that have helped me keep going.”
One of those outside influences was friend and fellow teammate Namani Parker, who is making his own dreams come true as a freshman wide receiver at American River College.
“When I started playing football, I didn’t even think about the scholarship opportunities that coincided with the sport,” Achayo confessed. “But I never quit and I had a lot of people helping me, pushing me along the way, telling me that I had a lot of talent. I might as well work for it, and go as far as I can.”
Achayo, who has a few scholarship offers already, has great respect for the Oakmont High football program. Without it, he wouldn’t have those offers on the table.
“Coach Moore is a big part of why I’m here,” Achayo said. “They did a great job preparing me and I am really appreciative of their support.”
Currently, Achayo is the starting left tackle for the Wolverines. He protects the quarterback’s blind side — one of the most important positions on the team.
“He’s a two-year starter, who has got a lot of length and he does a great job with everything that we’ve asked him to do,” Sierra’s offensive line coach Jeff Remington said. “He’s just getting better in every practice and every game. You’d like to have ten more guys like him.”
Although Sierra College is 0-2 this year, both losses came in the fourth quarter or overtime. In week one, San Francisco City College — the No. 2 ranked team in the state — overcame a 24-9 deficit in the final period to beat Sierra at home. One week later, the Wolverines lost on the last play in overtime to No. 6 ranked Fresno City College, 42-41.
Achayo started both of those games at left tackle and has given his quarterback, Kyle Cota, enough time to throw eight touchdowns, which is good for second in the state.
“It means a lot to be a starter on this team,” Achayo added. “I’ve put in a lot of work and I just want to be there to help my team win games. I’m going to block, I’m going to open holes for my running back and I’m going to make sure my quarterback has time.
“I’ve done a lot of weight training, but really I’ve been honing my technical skills. This offseason, I gained a lot of strength, but now I have to polish those technical skills.”
The Wolverines are at home again this Saturday as they host Laney College in a 1 p.m. battle at Ostrom Stadium.
Keep an eye out for big No. 64, who is happy just being on the field.
“I love this game,” Achayo said. “I love the grind and it’s everything to me. If it wasn’t for football, I don’t think I would be doing very well in school. It’s a motivating factor, and it’s something that gives me drive in the classroom.”
Just like his mother, Sylvia — who is still in school and hopes to graduate with her masters degree soon — Derrick has big plans on the field and off.