Do you know what the most popular sport in Trinidad is?
Jeroen Blugh certainly does — it’s soccer. The San Juan, Trinidad, native spent the first 18 years of his life growing up on the island off Venezuela’s coast in the southern Caribbean, playing that very game.
Fifteen miles outside of Trinidad’s capital, Port of Spain, picture a young Blugh perfecting his skills on the pitch on a daily basis with his buddies.
It’s a normal day in San Juan, a warm 70 degrees with little humidity, and the recess bell has rung. Students fly out of the school building like a stampede, just itching to be out in the hot Trinidadian sun. Some are doing sprints, racing each other in hopes of becoming the next Usain Bolt.
Blugh, a senior defender on the Boston University men’s soccer team, is playing the game he loves, the game he’s passionate about, the game he grew up with. He’s at his normal position, center back, playing lockdown defense while keeping the ball away from the goalkeeper and the net.
“Soccer is like a culture back home,” Blugh said. “It’s like a religion.”
Whether it’s filling a high school stadium for a random game, or supporting the national team, the people of Blugh’s country find solace in soccer. In fact, Trinidad and Tobago holds the distinction of being the smallest nation, both in size and population, to qualify for the FIFA World Cup. In a country with just over one million residents, people use soccer as an escape.
For Blugh, though, it was not always solely about soccer.
“When I was five years old, I grew up with a bunch of little kids in my neighborhood and we all used to run races,” he said. “I actually used to run track at first, even growing up into high school. I started a soccer club when I was six and from then on I just continued. I had to choose between track and soccer in my last year of high school, so I chose soccer because I just enjoyed it a little more.”
It was his senior year of high school, too, when Blugh made another decision that would change the rest of life.
He had always wanted to come to the United States to attend school, but it seemed more like a dream than a reality.
Some of his aunts and uncles live in New York, and Blugh’s parents, along with his older brother, would visit America almost every summer for two to three weeks at a time. He also made a few trips to the states with his club team, playing in showcases like the Dallas Cup.
That being said, none of Blugh’s immediate family had attended college in the States. Imagine his excitement, then, when his principal called him to make a very important announcement.
“That was pretty funny,” Blugh said, laughing when asked about the recruitment process. “I was actually talking to [the University of Connecticut] for a little bit, and then I randomly got a call from my principal. He said, ‘There’s a coach that wants to talk to you.’ It was [BU assistant coach] Scott [Black]. [Black said,] ‘I’m from BU and we saw a tape of you,’ but I hadn’t even sent them video, so apparently it was another kid from Trinidad who had sent them film of his team playing against my team, and one of the coaches told Scott. He came down to Trinidad, saw me play three games, and after that they offered me a scholarship.”
THE BU YEARS
It’s game night at Nickerson Field, the second home game of the 2012 season against a nationally ranked Brown University team.
The Terriers entered the game, and the season, with high expectations, having claimed three regular season conference championships in four years.
But in the 11th minute, then-freshman Blugh, playing in his first-ever game in front of the Terrier faithful, went down. He had torn his ACL, ending his season and making his first year in the United States that much more difficult.
“That kind of put me down a little bit,” Blugh said. “Coming from Trinidad, I was expecting to make a name for myself for the first season. I wanted everyone to know who this guy from Trinidad is. It was a struggle that first part of the year.”
Would he do it all over again, though?
“Definitely man,” Blugh said, smiling. “I had a couple injuries throughout my time here, so soccer-wise, that was kind of a downfall … I had never been away from my parents for more than a month, and to come to college like a million miles away from my parents and I’m on my own, that was hard. I think just having these brothers around me helped me to be more comfortable and settle in quickly.”
And brothers they are. Blugh has adjusted admirably to living in the United States, notably comfortable in his new home. Several of his teammates walked into the locker room during this interview, each one sharing jokes and embracing Blugh’s effervescent character. He has become a true member of the BU family.
“He’ll be one of those kids who, when you see him ten years from now, he’ll always put a smile on your face,” said BU coach Neil Roberts. “His teammates will say the same thing, whether it’s in an airport or at a reunion.”
He attributes his success at BU, on and off the field, to many people, from his family in New York, to Roberts, to some of his outstanding professors. Certainly, his vibrant personality has also played huge role in his adjustment to America.
“I feel like I know a lot of people and I’m pretty social, just because of my culture and me being from Trinidad,” Blugh said. “I’m warm-hearted and friendly to people, which has allowed me to make a lot of friends and connections here that I probably wouldn’t have made if I didn’t come to America or BU.”
That doesn’t mean that Blugh’s three-plus years here have been without adversity, though. He noted that the transition from Trinidad to BU was definitely somewhat of a culture shock. Differences in food, business and work culture were stark contrasts to the way he had spent the first 18 years of his life. But the move was one that was well worth it.
Blugh has found himself, however, on the pitch, where his natural talent speaks for itself.
“I wouldn’t say it was easy, but it wasn’t too difficult in terms of me being technical enough to be able to play over here,” he said. “Back home, me being a captain, I always had a leadership role, so I was more dominant in terms of that. It’s way more tactical here, you have different strategies for different teams. Back home we usually just go out and play.”
Injuries have marred Blugh’s time as a Terrier, as he has missed time every season of his career thus far. When he’s been healthy, though, Blugh has helped solidify one of the most formidable backfields in the Patriot League and America East.
“Jeroen always has meant well and it’s just that he’s had some tough breaks,” Roberts said. “He’s come to us and we joke a lot together. You know he has a good heart and tries real hard, and we’re all hoping he’ll be a big key to our success. He’s talented, he’s athletic, he’s a good soccer player and cares a ton.”
MEDICAL SCHOOL AND BEYOND
If you were around Commonwealth Avenue the past few summers, you have probably run into Blugh at one time or another. The senior takes his studies quite seriously, and has taken classes during the summer months in order to graduate early. Why the rush?
Blugh is set to graduate in December, after which he will begin studying for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). Majoring in biology on a pre-medical track, he wants to graduate early so he can focus wholeheartedly on the exam with no other distractions. He sees himself enrolled at a medical school next year, maybe even at BU.
That wasn’t always the plan, though.
“Back home after graduating high school, I actually got accepted to go to med school in Trinidad, and in Jamaica, actually,” Blugh said. “But I decided to come to the States because I always wanted to come to school in America, and also because my older brother has friends who came to school in America … I would always hear stories of it, and that really influenced my decision. I wanted to play soccer in college over here, too, because I knew it was a higher level than back home.”
In fact, Jeroen’s decision started a trend within his family. After he came to the U.S., one of his younger cousins followed suit, and now there is a second Blugh attending BU.
“I feel like me being able to come over, just show that it is possible, is important because not a lot of people get that opportunity to come out here,” Blugh said. “You have so much more opportunity here, just things you can do, and it was eye-opening for a lot of people seeing that and just a lot of my family members.”
Family is of the utmost importance to Blugh, and when asked about his plans for the future, helping his family and those close to him had a lot to do with the answer.
He plans to get his master’s degree and go to med school in America, after which he eventually wants to return home to give back to his family and the community in which he grew up. Blugh’s dream job is becoming the sports physician for the Trinidad and Tobago national football team.
“I really do want to go back at some point to give back, to donate something, because I lived most of my life there so far,” Blugh said. “I would want to give back to Trinidad because that’s home.”
Home is where the heart is, and for someone with as big of a heart as Blugh, that carries a lot of weight.
“I know a lot of people who’ve given time and put effort into me just doing well and becoming the person I am today,” Blugh said. “I feel like I can’t take that for granted and I need to do something to give back, even if it’s not directly, something indirectly toward Trinidad, Tobago and the community of my high school.”
Two of those people whom Blugh was referring to are his parents. You can bet they’ll be plenty happy to see him healthy and on the field this Sunday against Bucknell University, a happy reunion for a trio that hasn’t been together since last Christmas.