Layton • Swarmed by classmates on a frosty fall night, Dayan Lake takes requests and fulfills them. One by one, friends and fellow Northridge Knights line up in hopes they can get a photo with the school's star defensive back.
One by one, and eager to stand next to Lake, they smile and congratulate their friend on the exciting victory. He thanks the lot, laughing and admiring the cold breath escaping from his lungs.
He's barely 16 and already one of Utah's top Division I recruits. Lake, a junior defensive back committed to BYU, is as Northridge coach Erik Thompson recites, "one of the most unlikely superstars you'll ever find."
Many coaches could say that about a various number of players they've seen grow, but Lake's story fits the bill more than most.
He was born in Liberia in the late 1990s, in the West African country stricken with horrific violence and civil wars. His father, Robert, played soccer growing up in Liberia and knew if there was any way to get son Dayan and daughter Yasah out of the torn country filled with chaos, he'd have to find a way to get an education and get out.
After applying to BYU-Hawaii and starting a collegiate soccer career there, he met his future wife, Jenny. The process of getting the children to the United States was exhausting. The U.S. embassy in Liberia continually shut down due to the evolving danger.
"By the grace of God," Jenny Lake said, "they got here."
On Aug. 6, 2002, Yasah, 7, and Dayan, 5, arrived in Utah. The trip was rough. Their father was still in Hawaii, so Jenny suddenly was thrust into the role of guardian to two young children.
"The kids are pretty resilient, and they acclimated pretty quickly," Jenny Lake said, "once we got them going in sports."
Naturally the kids laced up soccer cleats and began dominating the youth ranks. Dayan's natural abilities led him to score so many goals so often that Jenny eventually asked the coaches to sit him to give the other kids a chance. Parents and coaches asked to see validation in the form of Dayan's birth certificate because of the skill level he exhibited on the field.
Football forced its way into the picture when Dayan reached the fifth grade as he wanted to branch out and start playing other sports.
He excelled. So much so that during Dayan's freshman season, Thompson started to whisper to college coaches around the state about his talented up-and-coming defensive back.
"I can play him anywhere on the field," Thompson said, "and he'd probably be the best at it. What he needs to do is make sure he's always on the field."
Thompson had to early this season.
Dayan is starring as the Knights' primary running back and defensive back, returns kicks and is an integral part of the punt return team.
"I think the only time he comes off the field is on PATs," Thompson said.
Knowing the pressure would increase as the primary rushing threat for Northridge this season, it only rises more with senior QB Nate Kusuda out with a broken collarbone.
"I can score on defense, but they don't pass to my side," Dayan joked. "On offense, I get the ball a lot, but I just like both. ... I'm a DB at heart."
At BYU, he'll be a defensive back. His 5-foot-11, 185-pound athletic frame will give him the chance to play in a scheme that Dayan felt comfortable with. Mom Jenny said one of tthe main reasons he chose BYU is the similarities between the style of coaching there and at Northridge.
"Dayan's a loyal person," Jenny Lake said. "Once you're a friend of Dayan's, you're a friend for life."
Such was the case following last Thursday's frigid win over Weber, when a hoard of friends surrounded the football star and he thanked each one for coming to watch him play.
Year • Junior
School • Northridge
Positions • Running back/defensive back
College choice • Committed to BYU