Dereck Valentine traveled more than 3,000 miles to show off his skills at USF, but he was already playing at a high level before he got here. Valentine is a third-year architecture major from Guápiles, Costa Rica who plays the forward position for the Dons’ men’s soccer team. In Costa Rica, Valentine’s skill shined when he played for Santos de Guápiles, the soccer academy he attended for his high school years, earning him a spot on the Costa Rican national team.
The 6-foot-1 forward spent four years with the Costa Rican national team on the under-20-year-olds team and participated in three tournaments, including the Confederation of North, Central America, and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF league) “There’s a lot of pressure because you’re representing your country but at the same time it gives you a lot of motivation,” Valentine said. “It’s great knowing you’re not only representing your whole country and its people, but you’re also representing your culture and its values.” Valentine and Costa Rica finished seventh out of 14 in the CONCACAF league and won the Central American tournament.
It was a dream come true for Valentine to represent his country on an international level. “I started playing soccer when I was four years old, and you always want to go and play for your national team,” he said. “It’s an experience not too many people get to have. I look back and I am so grateful for that experience. It made me not only a better player but also a better person.”
Valentine came to San Francisco in 2020 and felt culture shock as soon as he touched down in the city. “Back home there are no cities as big as San Francisco, I’m used to being closer to the people around me,” he said. “My first year was hard, I knew a little bit of English but I had to be more fluent and I didn’t have my family with me.”
Valentine said his relationship with his teammates helped him with his transition. “They were helpful in terms of including me in everything and trying to get to know me. Even though my English wasn’t that good and [I] couldn’t fully communicate with everyone they made it really easy for me to become a part of the team and the family that we are now.”
Other than Valentine, there was only one teammate who spoke Spanish — Rodrigo Bueno, a third-year midfielder for the Dons who was born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico. Valentine said that the two of them formed a bond that is still strong to this day.
Although Valentine is living in San Francisco, he still hasn’t lost that sense of home. “It’s not that hard for me to carry my culture every day, because it is my home. I just want to have the strength to help everyone around me as much as I can and make the people with who I connect just a little bit happier,” he said.
On the field, Valentine channels the mentality and philosophy of basketball legend Kobe Bryant. “The last few years haven’t been easy for me on the sports side. But that mentality that [Kobe] always had of being relentless and loving the game and loving the process is with me,” he said. “There’s going to be bad moments in life in general and things you can’t control, but what you can control is how you react to them. You can control how much you work to be the best version of yourself.”
Amid National Hispanic Heritage Month, Valentine reflected on Latine influences and what the month of national recognition means to him. “Here in San Francisco, there’s a lot of Hispanic and Latino people, and even though they’re the minority, the culture here is huge,” he said. “So it’s a great opportunity for everyone to get to know about the culture and share it with everybody.”