Youngest Cal State Fullerton soccer “draftee” is the team’s inspiration
Nikolai Greco, 11, didn’t know what he was in for when he walked onto the field of Cal State Fullerton’s Titan Stadium Thursday afternoon, May 9.
But everything clicked for him when he glanced at a ball signed by the players and coaches of the school’s men’s soccer team.
“Wow, I’m officially on the team,” Nikolai, who goes by Niko, said later as he recalled what he was thinking at the time.
Niko, who was diagnosed in 2013 with leukemia, is the team’s first and the university’s third draftee under a program through Team IMPACT, which connects children facing serious or chronic illnesses with college athletic teams.
After Head Coach George Kuntz drafted him Thursday, Niko became the team’s youngest player.
On May 5, deemed “Cinco de Niko” by his parents, Niko and his family celebrated the two-year anniversary of his last treatment. Four days later, they were sitting at a long table on the stadium’s field as Niko got ready to sign his letter of intent in front of the entire team and a gaggle of cameras.
Niko has known the team since February, when he first went to a game. He is “extremely shy,” but he fitted in right with the players, his parents said. He has been to games, practices and even lunches, talking with the players and coaches.
“We just hung out like normal teammates,” junior defender Sam Molz said.
Right after the signing ceremony, Niko, his younger brother, Lucca, younger sister, Bella, and Molz went right to playing, everyone chasing Lucca as he dribbled toward a goal.
“Having some big brothers that have taken the time to get to know him and spend some time, make him feel valuable, it means the world to me,” Niko’s mom, Erin Greco, told the players.
As an official member of the team, Niko will be going to many of the team’s practices, games and whatever else the team may do, Kuntz said.
“You becoming a part of our team is a forever thing,” Kuntz told Niko. “Once a Titan, forever a Titan.”
And Niko, who likes to play soccer but hadn’t had a favorite team, has found a squad to cheer for.