Sunday Deng, '22

Sunday Deng, Health and Sports Science

 By John Allen

 “I’m in the right place here at Northwestern.”
“As I drove into Alva the first time in 2018, I asked ‘Are we in the right place? Is this the main road into Alva?” recalled Sunday Deng, Northwestern junior. “What I’ve come to realize about Alva and Northwestern is that it is the people who make this place. With the relationships I’ve made and the support I’ve been given, I know I’m where I’m supposed to be.”
Deng is a junior majoring in health and sports science. He is also an offensive lineman on the Ranger football team. At 6’-7” and weighing in at a little more than 280 pounds, Deng is an imposing figure. Perhaps more remarkable is his strength of character. Quiet and reserved, his strength comes from within. His determination to succeed is its unfailing partner.
Born in South Sudan, Deng moved with his mother and two sisters to Egypt at the age of two. At six years old, Chicago became his hometown for five years before moving to Des Moines, Iowa.
“The first challenge I remember was learning both the English language while adjusting to the American culture,” Deng said. “Teachers helped me so much.”
In eighth grade, Deng tried his hand at basketball. He laughs at that memory.
“I wasn’t coordinated enough for basketball. When I went to Roosevelt High, a coach talked me into wrestling. Wrestling made me an athlete. I then played left tackle on the football team for three years. With my coach’s mentoring and support, I realized sports could get me into college.”
Deng’s college career began at the University of Nebraska Kearney. The first semester went well, but the coaching staff changed mid-year and Deng found himself without the mentoring support and encouragement he had once appreciated. His grades suffered, scholarships were at risk, and he felt lost.
“My mom taught me to not make situations worse than they are. I believe when the door closed at Kearney, God opened the door to Northwestern.”
Ken Gordon, defensive coordinator for Ranger football, knew Deng while he was a coach at Kearney. He was instrumental in recruiting both Deng and Deng’s best friend, Kentrez Bell, wide receiver, to Northwestern. Bell accompanied Deng to Alva on their first trip to Alva. Gordon has been a strong mentor for Deng.
“Sunday is both a great athlete and a great person,” said Gordon. “He doesn’t give up. He pushes through the struggles and he makes happen what needs to happen. He owns strength of character.”
In addition to Gordon’s mentoring, Deng has found encouragement from faculty.
“I admit, I don’t like math,” Deng shared through a wide grin. “When I received an A in College Algebra, I celebrated! And I knew it was because Mr. Meeker took the time and had the determination to help me be successful.”
“Sunday was a great student to have in class,” said Keenan Meeker, Instructor of Mathematics. “He was a hard worker and asked questions…he always had a positive attitude and came to class ready to learn. What made him successful was his work ethic. His work ethic helped him to be successful in my class, and it will continue to help him be successful in life.”
Deng plans to pursue a career in sports management or sports training. In the meantime, he is satisfied in following a path to excellence.
“I’m still working on myself. My mother taught me to push forward and not dwell on failure. I don’t want to disappoint her. I’m looking forward to being the first of her six children to earn a college degree.
“I want to have a positive impact on people. When my little brother let me know that he wanted to be just like me, it provided a clear sense of responsibility. A purpose. Coaches, teachers and others have done this for me.
“I’m in the right place here at Northwestern.”


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