Daniel Meade is a fan of the sun. It’s warm, shines brightly and delivers comforting light. When the sun is out, smiles abound, people are more upbeat and positive. An overcast sky selfishly doesn’t let the sun do what it does best.
The sun and Meade, a team captain for the men’s soccer team and this Sunday to become a University of San Diego graduate with a degree in International Relations, have plenty in common.
When he watched MTV’s “The Hills,” a show set in sunny Southern California, he was 18 and ready to go places. He was still in his hometown of Oxford, England and he had dreams of playing Division I college soccer (called ‘football’ in the U.K.) in the United States and, eventually, professional aspirations.
“I thought I’d like to go to California, find those beaches and the palm trees and live that lifestyle for awhile,” Meade said.
Being from “the working class part of Oxford,” Meade completed high school at age 16. He spent nearly a decade honing his considerable football skills when he signed a two-year youth contract with Oxford United. He chose it, which at the time was a strong Premier League program, over Southampton and Reading because of the travel distance. He was part of Oxford’s unbeaten South West Under-18 league championship squad in 2007-08.
“After winning league, they took us around and had a parade. There was talk of five or six of us being offered pro contracts,” Meade recalled. A strange thing followed, though, as Oxford’s chairman abruptly released players and the program’s fortunes went downhill. It was tough, Meade said, but perhaps, he reasoned, it was a shiny blessing.
“I was fairly academic for a footballer in the U.K. You either played football or go the university route,” he said. “I decided I wanted to get out of England. I wanted a new challenge. When I was released, I sought a scholarship to play in the U.S.”
He was eager for his California dream to be a reality. He searched online, but found out he needed to attend a community college to obtain an associate of arts degree. Though not well off financially, he was determined and figured he’d play well enough to attract Stanford or UCLA to give him a scholarship. Soon, Foothill College in Los Altos, Calif., would become his first stop in the Golden State.
Then came a nightmare incident in late July 2008 in Bicester, a town in the Cherwell district in northeast Oxfordshire. He and some friends were having a good time, hanging out, but it was getting late, around 3 a.m., and they were ready to leave.
“I didn’t drink as I was very much still an athlete,” he said. “We’d had a great time. My friends went into the pizza shop and I was waiting for them so we could leave. A guy came up to me and started asking me questions. I guess someone had said to him that I wasn’t from the area. I answered his questions. I wasn’t looking for any trouble. I was going to California in one week. I didn’t give him any attitude. He then said ‘nice to meet you’ and shook my hand. And then out of nowhere, totally unprovoked, he punched me in the face. He broke my jaw in three places.”
The Oxford Mail newspaper reported on it in August 2008. The tabloid’s front-page headline, BROKEN DREAMS, showed a hospital bed photo of Meade. The story said “the blow smashed his head into a window and left him needing three metal plates in his jaw and 100 stitches.” Another observation in the story came from Meade’s dentist, who noted that the broken jaw was one of the worst he’d ever seen. He had thought that the injuries came from a road accident.
“I was still bleeding from my mouth for seven hours after it happened,” Meade said. “I felt like my jaw was falling off. It was really swollen, just horrible.”
Meade was in the hospital for three days, endured multiple hours of surgery, had metal plates inserted and was stitched up ear to ear. Doctors told him he couldn’t play soccer for four months. That ended his hope of playing that initial fall for Foothill. He redshirted and it meant he’d only have one year to impress major college coaches.
“It was so frustrating to have everything set up and ‘Bam!’ have everything change. I decided I was still going to California. I didn’t want to be in Oxford any more.”
Coming to California
He flew to California and, without soccer, Meade focused on academics. When he returned to play in 2009, he showed what he could do. He scored nine goals, tallied eight assists and helped Foothill get to the third round of the playoffs. He made the Dean’s List with a 3.7 GPA. Most remarkable was that Meade played much of the year with knee patella tendonitis and ligament foot damage.
Meade turned his attention to Division I soccer. He was well recruited, but ultimately chose USD. As this was happening, his mother, Karen, was pleading her son’s case in a courtroom to get injury compensation from her son’s attacker, who did wind up serving one year in jail. Her emotional testimony convinced a panel to award a sizable settlement that helped Meade with college costs not covered by the soccer scholarship.
Toreros Coach Seamus McFadden and his staff liked what they’d seen of Meade at Foothill and his Oxford credentials solidified him as a quality recruit. But multiple injuries over the next three years — he was even granted a medical redshirt in 2010 — plagued him at USD. Since his initial arrival in California, he’s had five knee surgeries, a wrist injury and a broken fibula. He played only 14 games, seven starts, with one goal and two assists as a Torero. His lone goal came against San Diego State. He didn’t play at all this past fall when USD won the West Coast Conference title and reached the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight.
There were, however, positives. Meade, now 25, was named as a senior team captain, giving him a role to motivate his young teammates. He kept up his academic success — he’ll graduate with a 3.2 GPA overall — and was a two-time WCC Commissioner’s Honor Roll member and named to the USD Alumni Association’s Alcala 100 in April.
“It was disappointing from a soccer-playing perspective,” said McFadden of Meade’s USD career. “But Daniel’s really a great kid. If not for all his injuries, in reality, he would have been a very big cog in the wheel for us. It was just one step forward and three backward with the injuries. He was always a good role model. If the measure of a man comes in how he conducts himself, then Daniel has done it well, always in a first-class manner.”
So what’s next? Sunday’s graduation will be special because his mother is here for it.
“I’m so proud of him,” Karen gushed. “Daniel’s been through so much. He’s done so well and the university has really supported him.”
Meade credits his mom for her unwavering love and support and believes his graduation is a shared accomplishment. He now hopes to gain U.S. employment locally. Perhaps he’ll pursue something tied to his passion for music, poetry and sports. He could be valuable to someone’s coaching staff or maybe he’d consider sports psychology as a career. He’s created a spoken-word message that touches on the Bicester attack but also about his ability to rise above it and rise again. He’s determined to be a strong and vibrant soul.
Just like the sun, Meade will shine every day.
— Ryan T. Blystone