Last season marked the third straight year that the Richmond Kickers failed to make the playoffs – even as the club moved to USL League One in the third division. The Kickers finished 9th in 2019 (out of 10 clubs) and saw the average attendance from a peak of 4,665 in 2017 to 3,468 last season. Thus it was no surprise when the front office elected to go with a new head coach and overhaul the roster.
The first new face that Darren Sawatzky brought in for the Richmond Kickers was defender Devante Dubose. Dubose has USL experience playing with Phoenix Rising in 2018 and lined up for the Oakland Roots in the NISA last season. In preparation for the eventual start of the 2020 USL League One season, here is the 10 question series with one of Richmond’s newest defenders.
1) As one of the new faces for the Richmond Kickers this season, could you describe the style of player you see yourself as and how you like to approach the right-back position?
DD: I have always seen myself as a dynamic player with an engine that can keep up and down the field throughout the entirety of the game. So to the naked eye I feel as though I will have those capacities to offer as long as I take care of my body. As far as a leadership role, it comes in the form of spirit on and off the field, I am a player that loves to learn which means I will find as many ways as possible to challenge myself and my teammates socially and emotionally.
Sometimes my ways can seem untimely at first but I find it beneficial to the collective growth of the team spirit in the longterm. I would say my high spirited attitude is most conducive to the outside back position as well as my role within our system which allows me to have a considerable amount of freedom to express myself.
2) You were the first new signing this off-season for the club, what attracted you to this opportunity to play in Richmond?
DD: For starters, Virginia is my second home. Although I have never lived in Richmond I consider Virginia a special place. As most of you know its where I played college ball, its where I’ve built many life-long relationships, I fell in love with my current girlfriend going on four years, and I have relatives near the Virginia area. So part of the decision was to get back in touch with my eastern/southern roots yet again so I can continue my overall growth as a human being.
The other side to that decision had to do with the rich history of soccer culture in the Richmond community. Just like at my hometown club Oakland Roots SC, I wanted to be a part of the beginning of a new era of soccer culture. I thrive in environments that scream culture, and, Richmond being the restorative city that it is, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to be a part of something bigger than the game itself.
When all is said and done, my hope is that I helped inspire the next African-American kid to step outside what they think they know let alone inspire kids and people of all ages and descent to not be afraid of chasing a dream that may seem unimaginable to others. Shoot for the moon and serve others in the process because the reward is much sweeter than any hardware!
Lastly, Darren’s values and vision were very similar to mine and the energy was mutual right away. The guy is a believer, and I am a believer. He believes in me and that’s all I need, the rest will fall into place. So this was a winning situation all around, who would pass all this up? I am just very blessed that my agent Eric Bucchere brought the opportunity to my attention. Obviously, parting ways after the inaugural season in Oakland was one of the toughest things I ever had to do emotionally, especially to many I was just getting started so my untimely departure could have been confusing. I can understand that, but I served my purpose there for the time being, and I was an ambassador years before the inaugural season. So to have seen that project come full circle, to see over six thousand in the stands, to be Oakland Roots’ very first professional player, and the first black player at that, was a testament to how far I have come personally and how far we have come as a city. It’s clear the Oakland Roots spirit is at the roots of my spirit, too.
I have to follow my heart to the best of my ability, that comes with many sacrifices, but my time is not just for me, it’s for those that paved the way for me. More importantly, it’s for those after me. I am just doing my part, plain and simple, and coincidentally I’m back in Virginia — my second home — a place I have tremendous gratitude for on so many levels. They say “timing is everything,” well its safe to say this all seems like perfect timing to me. Granted, after being cut from the San Jose Earthquakes, the Richmond Kickers was the first club I tried out for and I was also cut then. But now I’m back better than ever, in a different time where soccer culture is thriving and flourishing, couldn’t ask for a better come back.
3) This is your first time back playing in the state of Virginia since you were with the Virginia Tech Hokies from 2010 to 2013. Have you been able to keep up with the program since then and any of the players who have gone on to play professionally as well?
DD: Yes, actually most recently at the 2019 NCAA tournament when Virginia Tech played Stanford away at Stanford myself and my good friend and Hokie alum Drew Rananhan attended the game together. Lettermen jackets and all! Supporting our squad, that whats Hokie pride is all about.
After leaving Tech, I have always maintained a relationship with the staff and quite a few of the players that went on to play professionally. I love VT so much that I returned in the Fall of 2015 to finish up and get my degree. At the same time, I was encouraged by Coach Briz and the staff to train and give guidance whenever permitted. That was a special time because although I was no longer eligible to play, I was given the opportunity to be alongside the staff and active with the team whenever permitted. Until this day Coach Briz checks up on me and I call him seeking advice from time to time. It’s great to know VT will always be a home for me on and off the field.
4) Fans of USL will most likely be familiar with your time playing for Phoenix Rising in 2018 when the club made it to the Cup Final. That was Phoenix’s best season up to that point, describe how that year was for you as that USL project was picking up momentum.
DD: My experience at Phoenix was another dream come true. The number of memories and everlasting relationships that were created and, to be apart of a monumental year for the organization, only intensified the moments. It was a year I will always cherish.
From a developmental perspective, the environment that was formed was of high quality and expectations. When you have that amount of experienced figures and personalities, you will certainly create an environment that demands a lot from you physically and more so mentally. Everyone had to contribute — starting or not — we all had roles to fulfill. The group that was formed was one of the most dynamic and close-knit groups I have ever been a part of. We would push each other’s mental and physical capacities to the brim and as soon as we get back to the locker room we laughed, we joked, we had so much fun. Every day was a day to celebrate, and that group taught me to relax more, think less, breathe, be present, play hard and have fun. This game is ultimately meant to be played with joy. My teammates and especially my coach Patrice and the legend himself, Didier Drogba expressed this in many tones throughout that year.
5) Obviously, we have to ask – how was it lining up on the same team as Didier Drogba?
DD: Once again, another dream come true. He is one of the most selfless human beings I ever met. He was big “DD” and he often called me little “DD.” To have a role model as a teammate became normal just like everybody else, but he took every opportunity to make sure our team was happy. He took me under his wing and fed me so much knowledge. He truly was patient with me yet pushed me mentally more than I ever have, he really taught me what fear looked like and how to look fear in the eye and then laugh at it, that is why he is so great.
You hear stories but I saw it with my own eyes. He is by far one of the fiercest competitors, yet he is a humble giant. The many stories and lessons led to a bond. He’s a big brother and I look up to him, not because he’s an amazing athlete, but because he stood for the bigger picture, which was to bring people closer together, to love, to have no fear, to unify, and to God.
I am truly thankful and blessed to have been apart of his final chapter of his professional playing career; forever grateful for his love, shout out to big DD!!
6) When you aren’t focused on playing, who are your favorite teams to support – soccer or in another sport?
DD: I have been a huge fan of the Premier League, and I have been a Chelsea fan for several years now but I love to watch all games in the Prem. It’s the most exciting league, besides the Champions League, in my eyes and I love exciting, dynamic, quality football. For the record, I have always been a San Jose Earthquakes fan since they were the closest professional soccer team to Oakland, so you can imagine getting drafted there in 2014 was a dream come true.
Outside of soccer, I grew a passionate American football fan, my dad was a 49er however I was a Raiders fan for as long as I can remember. And I have been a Golden State Warrior fan since the Jason Richardson days — if you know you know! However, I love sports in general, golf, tennis, you name it.
7) Which away ground are you most looking forward to visiting this season?
DD: I look forward to all away grounds because all away grounds are the same grounds to me, and I enjoy traveling. Now, since I have family in a lot of those away areas, I look forward to the extra support in Arizona, North Carolina, Nebraska, and Savannah. I think I might have just named them all, so, therefore, I look forward to all away territories because I have a little piece of home in all those places.
8) Give us an album or artist you’ve been enjoying in the past few years.
DD: It’s extremely hard to list one artist let alone one album, but I would say Drake, Nipsey Hussle, J. Cole, and Kendrick Lamar, along with a whole bunch of other artists. I love music and I love art so there are so many artists and albums that have been inspiring and uplifting in my day to day life.
9) What is your favorite place that you’ve discovered so far in Richmond?
DD: All of Richmond has too much to offer, besides the variety of food options, I have been attracted to the history. Most recently I went to the Richmond Riverfront, which illustrates just how far we have come as African-Americans but speak volumes to how far we have come as a nation. Virginia holds so much history.
10) It has been a number of years since you played in Tucson, but you and new head coach Darren Sawatzky have a history at that club. The Kickers play FC Tucson at home on 7/11 and travel there 9/4, do you have those matches circled on your calendar?
DD: To be honest, I don’t have it circled because the second I bring more attention to those dates, I will take my attention away from the games before those dates. However, to know they are on my schedule, it brings me joy, and, when that first day arrives, I’m sure I will be enthusiastic. Tucson also holds a very special place in my heart, it was a place that continued my development as a player and a person. I still keep in touch with the family I lived with during my stay in Tucson. I consider them my family, and they treated me like one of their sons — that’s the nature of Tucson, a place that where all is accepted and loved.
Thanks to Devante for giving us his time. We look forward to seeing him and the Richmond Kickers back out at City Stadium later this year.