When Sosthene Kapepula concluded his high school football tenure in 2008 as a starter for Sherwood’s undefeated state championship team, he had one dream in mind: play college football.
The 6-foot-3, 221-pound linebacker had all the physical tools to immediately play at the collegiate level, but a few personal issues, including improving his grades, delayed Kapepula from reaching his goal.
Then, sometime before the 2011 season, Kapepula improved his by taking classes at Montgomery College and received his Green Card to be able to legally live in the United States. So, former Sherwood coach Al Thomas called Wesley College coach Mike Drass on the phone.
“He was one of our best players and an emotional leader,” Thomas said. “I kept in touch with him. … Once he got everything in order, I gave [Drass] a call and said, ‘I guarantee you he will play for you his freshman year and by his second year, he will be good enough to start.’”
He did not disappoint his former coach.
Last year, Kapepula was selected as the Eastern College Athletic Conference’s Defensive Rookie of the Year. This fall, he helped lead Wesley (10-2) to the NCAA Division III quarterfinal round and recorded 120 tackles. In Saturday’s playoff loss to Mary Hardin-Baylor, Kapepula recorded a career-high 18 tackles.
“I am forever indebted for [Thomas],” Drass said. “[Kapepula] is a bona fide All-America candidate. … I can’t think of another freshman [that made the impact he did last year].”
Kapepula and his family immigrated to the United States when he was in elementary school from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. His father is a pastor at a church in Silver Spring.
Kapepula met his best friend, Matt Emerson, as a sophomore when the two played for Sherwood’s junior varsity football team. They almost instantly bonded during two-a-day practices as Kapepula came over to Emerson’s house for lunch.
“It just became a regular thing,” said Emerson, who plays lacrosse at Messiah College. “We got real close and eventually he would be over at my house every day. He also got real close to my family to the point where he would hang out when I wasn’t even there.”
Eventually, Kapepula became like another family member to the Emersons.
Debbie Emerson, the mother of Matt, Dean, who started at center for Sherwood this fall, and K.C., a goalie for John’s Hopkins women’s lacrosse team, was a major influence in helping Kapepula achieve his goal. She helped him through the entire college application process.
“We are very proud of him,” she said. “Sosthene took a little different path, but he never lost the dream of playing football. He’s worked so hard in all aspects of his life. You can tell he doesn’t take anything for granted.”
Added Kapepula: “This is the best experience of my life. Not only playing football, but just going to school. … I never expected it any it.”