Dorian Naiditch was on the soccer pitch, playing the game he’s loved since he was 2 years old, when Josh Oswalt approached him in the fall of 2010.
Oswalt was just named the football coach at Carlisle High School on April 23 of that year. He was looking for a kicker to add to his team, and singled out this 17-year-old freshman who was on the varsity soccer team.
Naiditch attempted two field goals and made them both. After that, Oswalt added him to the team.
Not bad for someone who had never seen, let alone kick, a football before.
That’s because Naiditch is originally from Nioki – a small community in the Mai-Ndombe District of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It’s a city that holds just over 40,000 people and is about 170 miles northeast from Kinshasa, the largest city in the Congo.
In 2008, Dorian was adopted by Sue and Ira Naiditch. His aunt, Linda Naiditch, made numerous trips to the Congo as a public health administrator, where she befriended Dorian’s biological mother, Marie Claire, decades ago. They became so close that Marie named Dorian after Linda’s husband.
Now, the 21-year-old Naiditch – standing at 5-foot-4 and weighing 145 pounds – continues his whirlwind journey at UNLV, where although he’s ineligible this year due to the NCAA’s residency rules, looks to make the football team at some point.
It’s a journey that includes two Civil Wars, a strenuous adoption process and a strong leg.
Dorian Naiditch lived through two Congolese Civil Wars in the 1990s. Although he was very young during the origins of both, he sort of understood what was happening and knew about the violence that took place.
The First and Second Congo Wars connected from 1996-2003. They were noted as the deadliest wars in the world since the days of World War II. By 2004, the death toll from the Second Congo War was estimated at 3.9 million people.
“It wasn’t easy,” Dorian said. “My parents had to work hard to get me to school every day, they had to work hard to get me food, to get me clothes.”
Fortunately for Dorian and his family, they were away from where the violence was taking place, which was farther east. But the importance of a quality education is what he wanted the most. He enjoys science, and is currently studying medicine with the hope to return to his homeland one day and help his people.
In 2003, Dorian decided that the time was right to move to the United States, but there were problems along the way. At first, Dorian said, the Naiditches just wanted to bring him to get a better education. There were no plans to adopt him. Dorian agreed to that, but when he and his parents went to the Capitol, they were told that he needed to be adopted in order to travel to the United States, and his parents needed to give up their birthrights.
But there was another obstacle in the way of getting Dorian to the United States: The Congolese government denied the process, keeping Dorian’s future in limbo for the next five years.
“We had to hire a bunch of lawyers, sign all of these papers, get the United States involved to help me come here,” Dorian said. “I was praying every day.”
Finally in 2008, after years of waiting for documents and approval, the Naiditches brought Dorian home, across the world to Carlisle, Pennsylvania. It was a culture shock, going from an African country to a city that has plenty of historical roots while not knowing a single word of English. But Dorian also had to adapt to the weather, coming from a country that would have ample humidity and hot days to a place that was home to snow, which he loved.
“It wasn’t easy,” Dorian said. “I couldn’t communicate with my parents for a long time. I struggled with the weather [at first]. I had a big jacket I wore to class almost every day.”
Dorian became a U.S. citizen in April 2011. His primary language was still French, so he had to rely on his parents to translate everything, but Dorian caught on quickly. It took him only four weeks at school to understand English.
“People were surprised, even my teachers, all the kids,” he said. “I went to Study Hall every day just to learn English.”
He still talks to his family every weekend when he can and plans to head back to the Congo for two weeks over the summer to see them. But when Dorian gets back, even though he won’t be playing this year, the focus will be on football.
It took Dorian two and a half months to fully understand what he was seeing on the football field. That is almost as impressive as the time it took him to understand English. Carlisle allowed him to play soccer because of his lack of English, but football quickly became the sport that he gravitated towards despite 15 years of playing soccer.
“I just love the game,” he said. “It’s just a great game to play. I love soccer, but football became my favorite sport. I watched it on TV, like, every day [that] I could.
Any chance Dorian got to get better at football, he took it. He attended the Kohl’s Kicking Camp in 2012 and got training from the likes of NFL kickers Alex Henery and Nate Kaeding. Getting time to work with the pros allowed him to show he could be an effective and powerful kicker despite his size.
Dorian said it takes 1.27 seconds, from the time the ball is snapped, for him to kick the ball. The NFL average is around 1.2 seconds and most college kickers average 1.4-1.6 seconds. In that short time it takes him to kick the ball, he’s able to put enough power on his delivery. He used to take three steps as he approached the ball, but now takes two quick steps and has enough wherewithal to put as much power as possible into his drive.
And if you’re wondering, the longest he’s kicked a field goal is 58 yards.
“If I was a little more bigger, I’d like to play another position, just to try it,” Dorian said. “But I’m not big enough. That’s why I just stick to kicking. When people ask me, I just tell them the truth,
‘I just love the game. I’m doing my best.’”
Dorian visited some high-profiled schools when it came time to choose – Arizona, USC and North Carolina, just to name a few. When it came to choosing UNLV, it didn’t take long to choose Las Vegas as his new home.
Dorian’s dad flew him out while he was on business, met with the coaching staff and things took off from there.
“I just loved everybody here,” he said. “All the people on campus, they were so nice. They were friendlier than any other school I visited.”
It’s no secret Dorian had the least amount of experience of the four kickers during spring practices at UNLV. He learned from Nicolai Bornand, Jonathan Leiva and Brian McIntyre, all who have kicked in a game at some point for the Rebels.
He’s just trying to show that he belongs in some way.
“He’s just really bright-eyed,” said head coach Tony Sanchez. “He’s excited to be here and just figuring out everything that’s going on. Even at that position, we’d go from drill-to-drill and he’s looking around like, ‘Wow, this is moving [fast].’ It’s fun seeing how excited he gets.”
The journey that this 21-year-old kicker is on, having no idea what football was four years ago, has culminated at UNLV with a chance to make an impact down the road. He used to go to Notre Dame and Penn State games, enjoying the experience and the atmosphere from a fan’s point of view.
UNLV isn’t a Notre Dame or Penn State, but Dorian wants to play in Division I football at some point, rather than be a spectator.
“My ultimate goal is to just give my all, be here every day, give it my best,” he said. “I just want to be part of a team.”