Basketball forward Sam Aryan wakes up at the crack of dawn to go to work at Stacks Pancake House in Newport Beach. The Austrian-born student-athlete goes in order to make ends meet with his father – whose recent workplace injury led Aryan to be the sole breadwinner in the household.
Aryan goes to his five-hour shift five days a week so he can play and study at Santa Ana College. Despite the struggles, Aryan won’t give up on the game he loves.
“No matter how hard it may be for me, I’m not just gonna give up on basketball like that, this is the only thing that really at times brings me joy,” Aryan said.
Aryan is just one of dozens student-athletes who struggles to balance school work, sports, and financial insecurities. Compounding the issue is the fact that Santa Ana’s median household income is below the state average.
The average household income in Santa Ana is $72,406, U.S. Census Bureau data shows. This community has to deal with working long hours for low pay, where the average minimum wage is $15 per hour, yet the average rent per person in Santa Ana is $2320 a month.
Throughout the years, many of the student-athletes of SAC have quit their team, redshirted, and in some cases even dropped out of school completely in order to keep a roof over their heads or just to have somewhere to sleep.
Men’s Soccer Head Coach Jose Vasquez worked through these same issues in his college days. Vasquez graduated from high school in 1987 but didn’t continue his higher education until two years later.
Vasquez has been coaching the men’s soccer program for about two decades and has seen this issue for years. He understands what his players go through and uses this as a mutual connection with them.
“Coaches are mentoring, helping them out on what to do extra. We are doing extra to help these kids be successful. It’s all for them to hopefully get an open door to a big school,” Vasquez said.
Running back Jamariae Smith is a current red shirt from the football team. Smith graduated from high school in 2019 but took a couple of years off to help support his family.
“When I graduated from high school I kind of stepped down from football for a little bit,” said Smith. “Helping my mom out, me and my little sister were working, trying to put our situation back together.”
As a running back Smith, is required to attend a minimum of two hours of study hall per week in order to participate in football. This requirement helps coaches make sure that athletes are keeping up with their schoolwork.
For Aryan, the University High School alum is excited to be back on the court this season after red-shirting to work full-time in fall 2021.
“Last year, I was trying to figure out how to balance everything, and my mind wasn’t there, I wasn’t living at home, some nights I was sleeping in my car, there was just a lot of family shit going on,” said Aryan. “Basketball is the only thing in my life that when I’m doing it like I don’t think about anything else.”