BANGOR, Maine — Quan Soyini relishes one of the biggest challenges any football player could face.
That’s the one-on-one confrontation between cornerback and wide receiver, isolated on one side of the field matching physical skills and the understanding of each other’s game plan.
The 5-foot-9, 160-pound junior cornerback from Manchester, Conn., has met those responsibilities successfully during his first three years at Husson University.
Dealing with adversity is nothing new for Soyini, who hopes to use his education at Husson as the foundation for helping his family, including his mother, two younger brothers and a younger sister.
They live with his grandparents, as well as an aunt and uncle. They were evicted from their own home when Soyini was a high school senior after Soyini’s father, also named Quan, was arrested in connection with a drug-related killing in Hartford in 2013.
Soyini’s father was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and being an accessory to murder and was sentenced in September 2015 to 70 years in prison, according to reports in the Hartford Courant.
“I watched my little brothers and little sister a lot growing up,” said the younger Soyini, who is a sports management major. “I took on a lot of roles at a young age, and my goal now is I want my mom to get a nice house, so me trying to do whatever I can do here whether it’s on the football field or in the classroom, I’ve got to do what I can to take over my dad’s responsibilities.”
On the football field, the 22-year-old Soyini this season ranks tied for sixth in NCAA Division III with seven interceptions. He enjoys playing cornerback.
“I like being in that position because for one, I’m smaller so they think they’re going to target me but I like the matchup because it makes me play more aggressive and it makes me better at my game,” said Soyini.
This week, he was named to the All-Eastern Collegiate Football Conference First Team at both cornerback and kick returner.
“I think I’ve gotten better at staying calm and having short-term memory because if someone catches a ball on you you can’t let it get you down, you’ve just got to keep playing.”
Coping with reality
Soyini was raised in Manchester, Conn., a town of approximately 60,000 located just east of the state capital of Hartford.
“My dad was in and out of jail when I was growing up, I don’t know how many times,” he said. “So when he was in jail it was just me, my mom and my siblings. When he came out he’d be there for a while and it would be good, it would be like normal, but then he’d go back to jail and it would tear our family apart.”
The breaking point came when Soyini’s father and his uncle, Kunta Soyini, were charged in the killing of 25-year-old Chimar Gordon on July 10, 2013, at a Hartford school playground.
According Hartford Courant reports, the elder Quan Soyini sold marijuana in that area but had been robbed by Gordon approximately a month earlier. He saw Gordon on the day of the murder and called his brother for help in tracking him down, according to the prosecutor in the case.
The elder Quan Soyini maintained his innocence and reportedly turned down a plea bargain for 20 years in prison, only to be found guilty and be sentenced to 70 years.
“He could have taken a plea bargain but he wanted to try to beat it,” said his son. “He took his shot and he didn’t beat it and look where he is now.”
The younger Soyini learned of his father’s sentencing while at Husson on Sept. 11, 2015.
“My mom called me one day before practice and told me,” he said. “I was in shock for the fact that he could have taken a lot less time and now he was being sentenced to 70 years.
“It sucks seeing it happen to your own father. You don’t see people getting sentenced like this often. You only see it in movies so when it happened to me it shocked me but it made me grow up faster and take on more roles. I just did what I had to do.”
The regrouping process
Soyini, who participated in football, basketball and track and field in high school, learned of Husson through a friend. Marquis Jimenez, a former Eagles defensive back, also was from Manchester.
“I came here with no visit before, just hoping for the best,” said Soyini. “When I actually got here I liked it for the fact there were so many trees and it was quiet.”
He arrived on campus in the fall of 2014 but, after suffering a broken foot playing pickup basketball, returned home to recuperate and save money.
“When I first went back home I wasn’t going to come back,” he said. “I was applying to schools back home and was going to run track, but I finally came back that next year and ever since then I’ve never wanted to leave.”
Soyini played mostly special teams as a freshman in 2015 but started the last two regular-season games and their ECAC Bowl game and secured his first two collegiate pass interceptions.
He’s been starting ever since, and now has 12 career interceptions.
This season he has returned two interceptions and one punt for touchdowns. He also has 30 tackles and 12 pass breakups for the ECFC champion Eagles (9-1), who play Saturday at Springfield College in an NCAA Division III tournament first-round game.
“Quan’s certainly very quick, very competitive, and he has great athletic ability and great instincts,” said Husson coach Gabby Price. “This has been a great year for him.”
Price and Soyini both credit much of that success this fall to the stability of living and working in Bangor last summer for the first time.
“I told my mom that I wanted to stay here last summer because there’s nothing to do back home and I really like it up here,” he said. “It’s calm, it’s peaceful; it’s not violent like it is back home and I could build a good head on my shoulders because playing football is my escape.”
Yet Soyini’s family — including his mother Claudine Roberts, younger brothers Quindal and Ian and younger sister D’asia — is never far away.
“It is harder when I’m not around because you can say so much over the phone but it’s different when you’re there with them because they can see the emotion on your face,” he said.
“My little brothers and sister are smart kids but I can tell that my dad not being around bothers them. I just try to tell them to do what’s right. My little brother wants to play DI basketball, and I tell him you’ve got to have the grades first. My little sister wants to be a chef, so I tell them both to follow their dreams.”
Soyini’s family made the trip north to watch a Husson game late this season.
“His mother is a tremendous person and I know she loves him to death,” said Price. “There are a lot of people who love him.
“Quan certainly has a great resiliency in life. He’s a tremendous leader and he sees that he can get things done. Although his circumstances certainly have been less than ideal, he’s going to work to make them ideal for him and everybody he loves.”
There was one notable exception to the family reunion in Bangor.
“I haven’t talked with my dad in a while,” Soyini said, “but he knows I’m at school and busy and doing what I can to help. I never had any problem with my dad. I loved that boy to death.”