In 2020 Chandler Hovik’s life changed, for the better, in a way no one, himself included, could have ever imagined.
Little did the Central High School head varsity coach know what started as a rather routine stroll outside during school hours, would turn into a life-altering introduction to a young man, named Ismail “Izzy” Foz.
“Izzy was in one of my co-workers PE classes,” Hovik recalled to the “Zone Read.” “He was on the field kicking a soccer ball and I’ve never seen a kid kick a ball so hard. I called him over, introduced myself, and asked him if he ever played football, and if he wanted to try to come kick for us.”
Through his then broken English, Foz agreed to give it a try.
“The following week he came to an off-season practice and we knew he was going to be special,” Hovik recalled. “His attitude and energy is something that everyone feeds off of.”
Izzy’s positivity has always been a beacon of hope for a teenager with the odds stacked against him. A tale far more complex than simply a prep athlete trying to hone his skills at a new sport.
He is a 16-year-old refugee from Burundi, Africa. His dad still resides in Africa, his mom in London. He was raised by his grandmother and came to the United States looking for a better life, and future, for himself, and his five siblings (one older sister, one younger sister, three younger brothers).
“In Africa, it was so bad,” Foz said to the “Zone Read.” “Life was so hard. My grandma was doing her best to make me happy and be happy. She taught me respect and not to lie…be respectful. My grandmother is my everything. Now, my life is better. I’m smiling and happy. I want to make her proud.”
Foz, a 4.0 student-athlete, speaks six languages: English, Spanish, French, Swahili, Kirundi, and Kinyawanda.
Unique on the field and off, the 5-foot-11, 165-pounder, who sports a white patch that goes through the front of his hairline, led the Bobcats in goals, playing varsity soccer as a sophomore shortly after arriving on campus.
If adapting to a new country, school, lifestyle, friends, and just overall culture change wasn’t impressive enough, Foz, now a junior, picked up football as quickly as he’s picked up admirers in, and around, the CHS community.
“He went from not even knowing what football was to becoming our starting varsity cornerback and first-team, all-district kicker as a sophomore,” Hovik said.
Foz converted 21 of 28 PAT’s and made one of two field goals for the 5-4 Bobcats last fall. He also registered 13 tackles and two pass deflections on defense.
“All my coaches made me work hard,” he said reflecting back to his first season in the sport. “I tried my best to be good. I wasn’t good at catching the ball but I tried my best because, on defense, you have to catch the ball if you want a pick (interception). My job is to play defensive back and kicker. The head coach, Coach Hovik, makes me work so hard because I live with him.”
Hovik, and his wife Crishana, ultimately decided their stable home environment would be the most beneficial to Izzy.
“His group home wasn’t the best situation,” Hovik explained. “My wife and I are actually his legal guardians now. Izzy is a huge blessing in our lives. He’s inspired us to be better people, happier people. He makes us laugh more than we’ve ever laughed. We’ve grown closer by spending more time as a family, and he always wants to spend time with us. He’s so grateful for everything he has and that means the absolute world to us. We don’t know what we would do without him in our lives.”
Izzy, who now also runs track at Central, has taken a liking to American culture. When he’s not eating classic teenage boy fare – like chicken wings, and pizza – he’s playing FIFA Soccer on Xbox with Hovik, ramping up his shoe game, or likely showing off his dance skills with Crishana on Tik Tok.
In the United States he has discovered, and fully experienced, the perfect blend of humility, happiness, and, most importantly, a home – thanks to the Hovik’s selflessness.
“I don’t know how to thank them,” Foz reflected, placing his hand over his heart. “God blessed them for everything they did for me. They took a chance and it changed my life. My mom, my dad, my grandma…everybody is so proud that they helped me out.”