Falcon carries the flag
The U.S. Military Academy's mission is to educate, train and inspire the Corps of Cadets so that each graduate is a commissioned leader of character committed to the values of "duty, honor, country" and prepared for a career of professional excellence and service to the nation as an officer in the U.S. Army.
Sounds good. But to Liberty High School's Yousef Koborsi, it sounds great — and it always has to the first-generation American, who was recently accepted into West Point.
"Growing up, I was so thankful for all the amazing things that I get here, and for me, serving my country is probably the most important thing I'll do in my life," said Koborsi. "Being a soldier and officer is really dear to me. I can't think of anything else I'm more passionate about."
And he means it.
Koborsi's parents are Jordanian, emigrating to the United States in the 1990s. Koborsi speaks Arabic and learned English as a second language as a kid. It was difficult, but it was that difficulty, coupled with his parents' insistence upon the value of strong work ethic, that led him to where he is today: a decorated high school athlete and one of roughly 800 kids annually accepted into the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
"I was always someone who worked hard," said Koborsi. "I was new to America as a kid, so it was difficult at first, but I really worked hard, twice as hard because my parents always taught me to work hard and be respectful."
So now you're familiar with his passion for the military and serving his country, but what's a close second for the soon-to-be-cadet? Football. The 5-foot-11, 200-pound senior loves himself some football.
As a kid, it was basketball he feverishly played. He was repeatedly pressured to put on the pads by friends and often their parents, primarily due to his size. But by the time his mother — who was hesitant to let him play due to the violence of the game — let him participate during his sixth-grade year, he had some work to do in order to become the type of player he wanted to be.
"I was always a bigger kid when I was younger, but I wasn't the most athletic or talented," Koborsi said. "I struggled in youth football, and by my eighth-grade year I was the typical slow, out-of-shape offensive lineman. Finally, I just had enough of being that guy and I just busted my butt during my freshman summer and sophomore year, and I ended up starting at running back my entire sophomore season. I made a big jump, and it took a lot of working hard and believing in myself."
But while offense is where he broke in, it was on the defensive side of the ball where he ultimately landed. Koborsi was a first-team All-Metro League linebacker for Liberty last season, and he takes pride in being the latest of a long line of successful Falcon backers. Early in his Liberty career, he used to work with elder statesmen like Kaelin Himphill — who now plays for San Diego State — and Devin Thompson and Brayden Bafaro, who taught him how to work.
"Those guys and my coaches really helped me a lot," said Koborsi. "They further enforced my appreciation for hard work."
Koborsi works at a feverish pace. It's not unusual for him to work out two or sometimes three times a day. If he's not in the weight room, you might find him at a local field with his beat-up agility ladder, running drills in an effort to simply get better. You could almost say it's become like a drug to him — after seeing results, he always wants "more," and "more" to him is the higher level of athlete or person he's always striving to become.
That work paid off last season, as Liberty — in just their second year at the 6A level — finished third in the Metro League and qualified for the state playoffs. Koborsi pointed to a pivotal instance following an early loss to Sunset, as a defining moment for his team and the season they'd eventually have.
"The captains talked the Monday before we played Beaverton, and I told the guys, 'It's just not going to be like last year,'" said Koborsi. "And we beat Beaverton 41-12, and after that we just started going. That was one of the best moments of my life, to see our work pay off. Our guys could've given up, but we worked harder and it paid off, and it was great."
Koborsi's work didn't go unnoticed either, as his head coach at Liberty, Eric Mahlum, spoke glowingly of the senior and his efforts both on and off the field.
"Yousef was a great leader for our team both on and off the field," said the coach. "He was a three-year starter for us and one of the hardest-working players we've ever had come through Liberty. His work ethic and dedication to be the best he can will help push him to great things in the future. I'm proud to have been his coach."
And the respect goes both ways. Koborsi speaks to Mahlum as someone who explained the benefits of work beyond the gift of athleticism.
"Coach Mahlum once told me that a lot of people have the natural gifts, but they don't build the type of work ethic that sustains and helps them beyond sports and into life," Koborsi said. "That really stuck with me."
Now he's headed to West Point, where he'll attend the prep school for a year, play football, then transfer into the academy with the rest of his class the following fall to hopefully play football for the Black Knights.
"I have a spot on the prep team at Army, where it'll be like a redshirt year," Koborsi said. "You play on the team and get stronger, then you play four years at the academy."
If you know anything about the U.S. Military Academy, you know it's very difficult to get in.
Koborsi started the application process last September and began collecting the necessary material to submit to the academy. In addition to stellar academics, a successful applicant needs a record of extensive activities and volunteer work, evaluations from teachers, three essay submissions, and a congressional nomination from a senator or representative. Koborsi received three of those nominations: one from each of Oregon's senators, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, and another from Suzanne Bonamici, who represents Oregon's First Congressional District.
Then there's a physical fitness test and a medical exam, and then, of course, the hardest part: the wait.
Koborsi learned of his acceptance last week, and he couldn't have been happier to hear the news.
"I got a call from my field officer, and he told me I was in," said Koborsi. "It was amazing."
Koborsi plans on studying either engineering or business at the academy, but he hopes to spend the bulk of his career in the Army, advancing as far up the chain of command as possible.
"I want to stay in the military as long as I can," he said. "Climbing the ranks and maybe becoming a general would be a dream come true for me."
Is Koborsi proud of himself? Of course — but he's also fortunate, he said.
"I wouldn't have been a quarter of the person I am now had I grown up back in Jordan," Koborsi said. "Not only the freedoms, but the chance for someone like me who's a first-generation American to be able to go to a prestigious military academy, and how that can be possible, is the American dream."