In the summer of 2018, Sofiane Djeffal arrived in Corvallis to play soccer for Oregon State. He had never visited the campus and his family was understandably nervous about him being so far away from their home in Nantes, France.
“I was in a tough spot back in France in terms of soccer. I didn’t really believe in myself, didn’t really have any type of plans for me to achieve,” Djeffal said. “(Oregon State coach) Terry Boss called me and defined and described the project he was trying to build here at Oregon State and I decided to take a chance on him and take a chance on Oregon State. Those first five months just opened my eyes. It was a game-changer, the best decision I ever made.”
Djeffal’s leap of faith was validated this week when the midfielder was named the Pac-12 Conference player of the year for men’s soccer. The Beavers dominated the awards, with Boss winning coach of the year, redshirt senior Tyrone Mondi being named the offensive player of the year, and Joran Gerbet honored as freshman of the year.
The awards are recognition of a program that has reached new heights. The Beavers are the top-ranked team in the country, won the Pac-12 championship, and are the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Division I men’s soccer championships.
Oregon State received a bye in the first round of the tournament. The Beavers will host St. John’s at 6 p.m. Sunday at Lorenz Field. St. John’s advanced with a 1-0 victory over Princeton on Thursday afternoon.
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Djeffal was grateful for the award and quick to thank his teammates.
“It’s an honor. It’s a team award. Without all these guys pushing me every day, I would never be in a situation where I can get an award like that. All of these guys are the Pac-12 player of the year,” Djeffal said. “It’s a lot of pride, it’s a lot of hard work, so it’s nice to be recognized.”
Boss said Djeffal inspired the team with his willingness to set high goals. Early this season Djeffal stated publicly that the team’s goal was to win its first Pac-12 championship.
“At that point, that sounds bold. That sounds really bold. But we’ve always had this quiet belief about us that this is part of what we’re capable of doing,” Boss said. “Part of being able to achieve things is being bold enough to speak them into existence and not be shy. Not in an arrogant way, but in a confident way about your expectations.”
Djeffal scored five goals and had five assists this season. For his career, he has 20 assists, the second-most in program history.
None were more important than the pass he made to Tsiki Ntsabeleng who scored the tying goal in the Beavers’ 2-2 draw against Washington on Nov. 11. Oregon State needed at least a draw to secure the outright Pac-12 title and time was running low when the Beavers scored.
“I was trying to tell them, ‘We’re going to get our chance,’” Djeffal said of the closing minutes of that game. “Sometimes it’s kind of difficult to see through when there’s only 4 minutes left and they are going to try to defend like crazy ... but we had that last chance and we took it. Tsiki scored and it was definitely the best feeling I’ve ever had on a soccer field.”
This is Djeffal’s fourth and final year playing for Oregon State. He is eligible for the draft and wants to make a professional career. Soccer is a worldwide sport and he has no idea where the sport might take him next.
“I’m looking for the best opportunity, the location doesn’t really matter that much at that point. I’m just looking for projects that make sense for me as a player, a coaching staff that believes in me as much as the coaching staff here at Oregon State did when I needed it the most,” Djeffal said. “I think if I can find something like that it would be perfect.”
Wherever he goes, he can draw on a worldwide network of friends he has built during his time at Oregon State. The roster includes players from nine different countries and 17 of the 33 players are not from the United States.
“One of my best friends is from England, I have friends in Canada, my teammates are Spanish. You feel like you can travel all over the world and still find family,” Djeffal said. “It’s a great feeling. Those relationships gave me the opportunity to learn a lot, learn about different cultures. I had so many lessons about life in general just talking with these guys and comparing. It’s definitely the beauty of our team, the beauty of our locker room.”