IN September, Lyon College, Arkansas, will have a new addition to their student roster with the much-anticipated arrival of Ronaldo Jacob.
Jacob, a former St Anthony’s College and Trinity College Moka student, earned an athletic scholarship to Lyon College last year after impressing football coaches and talent scouts with his abilities on and off the football field, notably with his service to other young men in his Laventille community.
For many young athletes, collegiate athletics is the first step towards a professional sports career, but while Jacob is eager to bring his passion for football to an arena outside of TT, the 20-year-old Pashley Street native says he is much more interested in being able to give back to his community when he returns to TT after graduating.
Speaking with Newsday, in Laventille, on Saturday, Ronaldo reflected on his journey as a student-athlete, his message to other young people and his plans for the future which he said did not revolve around football.
Ronaldo, who is named after legendary former Brazil forward Ronaldo de Lima, says while he intends to live up to the reputation of his namesake, he is his own man with his own ambitions.
While on the surface Ronaldo may seem calm and collected, he admits he is excited for what the future holds for him during his stay at Lyon College.
“This won’t be the first time I’m travelling abroad. I would have travelled to Italy in 2014 with WB Connection who I played for at the time. I’m not really nervous but I’m just looking forward to starting the season in the US.”
Every day for the past 15 years, Jacob has played, trained, or thought about football.
His passion for the game has been with him since childhood, but it was only until a family trip to Chacachacare when Jacob was only five-years-old that his father Simon Jacob Snr realised his son’s potential as an athlete.
“We were on the beach liming and Ronaldo was playing with a football. I kept watch on him to make sure that he wasn’t getting too close to the water when a friend of the family told me that he (Ronaldo) had a gift.
“He said while most children would run behind the ball, Ronaldo kept pace with it and controlled it well. That is what prompted me to get him involved in a football club and that’s what he’s been doing ever since.”
It was at this point Ronaldo was placed under the mentorship of former athlete and Hummingbird medal winner Michael Paul at his Laventille football academy. It is here Ronaldo not only learned the basics of the game but the importance of camaraderie and leadership as he is often called to assist younger players with their technique. Ronaldo has walked a tightrope in balancing athletics and academics, something he credits largely to his parents’ involvement through a strict routine.
“Discipline is a huge part of success. It gives shape to the goals that you have. In my case, while a lot of my friends would have been out partying or liming, I was inside studying or outside playing football and perfecting my skill. It’s hard work but it’s necessary and I want other young people to understand that.”
While Ronaldo may seem to have a one-track mind between his studies and love for football, this focus has kept him on a straight and narrow path towards achieving his goals despite growing up in what many consider a “hotspot” area.
A self-described “inside child”, Ronaldo admits he scarcely goes outside and while he may not have had an up-close and personal encounter with Laventille’s darker side, he is aware of the sad and dangerous realities that continue to confront some of its youngest residents.
“I haven’t had any interactions on that part but I want to help other youths realise their own potential and understand that if I can do it, so can they.”
In addition to helping coach form one students, at Trinity College, and the younger children at Paul’s football academy, Ronaldo has also volunteered in the Heroes Foundation, a non-governmental organisation aimed at providing community service to others.
He admits while the game he loves can be physically and emotionally demanding, his drive to be the best has not waned and is determined to help other young athletes find their true potential through coaching. Recalling his most memorable game at the Under 17 North-South classic at the Manny Ramjohn Stadium, where he was brought out onto the field during the second half pushing his team to victory over Naparima Boys College.
While there are many ways to tell the story of a successful athlete who has defied the odds to win the game and the admiration of his fans, it’s difficult to capture the failures that go into creating such a star from the ground up. Ronaldo has had his fair share of failures.
Recalling one game with Fatima college where his team lost, the frustration and failure drove him to tears after the match. What impact this experience had on his ability is hard to tell since Ronaldo remembers the loss with the same steady composure as he would remember his greatest victory.
Speaking with Newsday, coach Michael Paul said he was proud of Ronaldo’s accomplishment and was confident he would represent his new team with the same quiet strength that took him throughout an impressive secondary school career. Robert Gregory, one of Ronaldo’s neighbours and family friend also chimed in on his scholarship and wished him the best with the new chapter of his life.
“I noticed his skill from a young age going to the Fernandes Recreation Ground and watching him play. I said it back then and I’m saying it now that I’m proud of him and I think within a few years I might be able to see him playing in the Premier League. I really believe in him.”
If Ronaldo represents what one young man can accomplish with hard work, steely discipline and guidance from family, his calm demeanour tells a different story, that life as chaotic and fast-paced as it could be is sometimes best faced with the cool composure of a man who knows what he wants and is confident in his ability to achieve it.