German native, Grego Diep grew up with an unshakeable dream to play soccer. Despite tragic loss, a tested identity and having to leave home twice, he has overcome great odds to make his childhood goal a reality.
Gregoire “Grego” Diep’s earliest memory of soccer starts when he was four and his older brother was five. They had just finished up their first soccer season. It was time to give out the season’s awards. Being the last two to receive a trophy, Diep and his brother were vying for the top prize. Uninterested in silver, Diep yearned for gold.
This was the kind of determination that enabled Diep to leave his home country, Germany, to play soccer at Azusa Pacific University. Diep, now a senior and the captain of the soccer team, has had a remarkable run so far. But his impressive stats hide the many obstacles he has faced. His story is one of tragedy, tenacity and triumph.
At 15 years old, Diep attended an academy school in Germany where he could focus on his goal of playing professional soccer. At 16, he moved away from home to be closer to school.
“Being away from home was tough but it was always something I wanted to pursue. Soccer was something that I loved and I wanted to put everything into that,” he said.
At that time, Diep wasn’t a Christian and soccer was his entire life. However, his whole world collapsed when his dad passed away. While grieving the loss of his father, he struggled to find playing time. Diep then faced even more adversity when he tore his MCL. Adding to his discouragement, Diep found himself in his last year of the academy with no clear prospects.
His life turned around once again when his friend invited him to church. Diep did not know anything about Jesus, but he found truth in the Bible his friend gave him. It was in this book he found a new passion to direct his steps.
These steps led Diep to APU. Three months before coming to the U.S., Diep’s agent was trying to work something out for him. Diep wanted to be a student-athlete, but no school would take him because he did not do well enough on his language test. Only APU was willing to give him a shot, promising to help him with his English by providing English classes.
“I knew it was a place where God wanted me to be because even though all the odds were against me, it still worked out. They had faith in me and I think with having three successful years, I think I paid them back,” said Diep.
Ready to take on a new challenge, Diep hugged his mom goodbye at the airport and prepared to leave for a country he had yet to see. He still remembers the nerves he felt during that 19 hour flight, but those butterflies turned into pure excitement.
Freshman year was special for Diep. On top of exploring a new country and being introduced to new sports, including American football, it was also an exciting transitional year for APU soccer. The team was eager to put in the effort necessary to be successful. Plus, in the US, with its comparatively more laid back soccer culture, Grego began to really enjoy soccer again. It was a fresh start.
“They had no idea if I was good, if I was not, [but] it didn’t really matter, while back home my identity was defined by how I played. I wasn’t looked at as a person but how my performance was,” expressed Diep.
His first goal was against Western Washington University. It was 100 degrees outside when he scored a freekick. Diep was amazed by how happy everyone was for him. This was a rarity in his soccer career.
Unfortunately, Diep faced another setback when he sprained his ankle, forcing him to miss the playoffs. His sophomore year, while still containing many highs, was also cut short when he sprained his calf.
Then came 2020 when all sports seasons were canceled. This was a very frustrating time for Diep. Practices were difficult with the team having to wear masks, and the campus was desolate. After the pandemic, Diep admitted that Cougar Walk didn’t feel or look the same.
Being eligible for a fifth year due to the global pandemic, Diep entered his second junior season, eager to make a comeback. This year has arguably been his most successful yet. On top of helping his team to win a third consecutive PacWest Conference title, Diep was also honored with several awards, including the All-American title.
“My girlfriend makes fun of me because I’m German and the German kid gets All-American! But we had really good players freshman and sophomore year who won these awards, so it was my goal to win that award too,” he said.
Still, Diep did not enter his junior year with this award in mind. When his coaches pulled him out of the weight room to speak with him, he was shocked to find out he was picked first team All-American.
The star athlete reflected while going up to get his award at the All-American ceremony in Kansas. He said, “I was just so scared. Thinking to myself, oh please don’t trip. Oh please don’t do anything stupid. Thank God I didn’t trip.”
Yet the season did not come without trials. Diep missed an anticipated game in Hawaii due to a pulled hamstring. This was understandably heartbreaking.
“I still had that dream of pursuing soccer so much but then getting injured as you can see every year, God more or less took that identity away. I said ‘God, why?’ This was supposed to be my season, but He blessed me so much by achieving everything my junior year because of His grace. He humbled me a lot and showed me that if you trust Him and be faithful, He’s going to be faithful to you as well.”
Another highlight of Diep’s junior year was when a certain special friend saw him play soccer for the first time (who, before seeing him play, thought he was not athletic). After this game, Diep not only proved his soccer abilities, but he developed a deeper relationship with this friend, who became his current girlfriend. She was there for him for another valuable memory when he graduated with a degree in business management before continuing his studies in APU’s graduate program.
As incredible as his junior year was, Diep’s run is not complete. Now, in his senior season, Grego feels a bit of pressure wanting to end his collegiate soccer career on a high note and hoping to defend three consecutive conference titles.
Though he wants to win, he’s eager for the challenge and is more at peace with whatever outcome occurs. “At the end, maybe God is humbling myself again. We will work hard, I will work hard and see what God has in store for us,” he said.
APU men’s soccer had an unusually shaky start in preseason. Diep isn’t used to APU soccer being the underdog, but he is glad that conference season will provide a fresh start. So far, the team has gone 1-1-1.
Grego plans to lead the team throughout the rest of the season by developing his younger teammates into confident players. More than that, he wants to encourage them to be servants to others and godly men, believing that theory is important but interpersonal skills matter most. Additionally, Diep said he will be taking lots of ice baths in order to prevent any more injuries.
While this might be his final collegiate season, Diep isn’t sure he’s ready to give up soccer. However — unlike his past years — because soccer is no longer his identity, he is able to surrender his dream of being a professional soccer player completely to God. His immediate plan is graduation in December, which he is hoping his family can come to, allowing them to finally see the United States.
After graduation, Diep plans to stay in the US, at least for the time being. He is not quite sure what the future holds, whether it be soccer or something else, but he is nonetheless excited for it.
“I just want to find a place where God can utilize me again for something new. I think I have had my time here at APU where he used me and now I am just finding that new place. And then selfishly, I have always dreamt of having a family [and] of having kids. That’s my vision for the future.”
As much as Grego has realized where his true identity comes from, having grown up in the sport, having a grandfather who played professionally and a brother who currently plays semi-pro, soccer is inescapably in his blood. But Diep believes it runs deeper than that. “God gives certain talents, certain gifts. I’m blessed to have this gift and I want to use soccer to bring people closer to God. I want to use my story to help people experience God as other players did for me,” he said.
And what a story it is! One can picture Diep telling it to an arena of people, specifically to young athletes. For those who hear how a little boy’s love for a sport took him around the world, tested him and strengthened him, they will be changed. They will be touched by Diep’s testimony as he shares his heart with a warm, glowing smile and a strong belief in what the future holds for himself for those around him.