UFH - Football - Varsity Football - Athenkosi Masiza

Tlokoeng – or Mount Fletcher as it was previously known – lies 415km north-east of Fort Hare’s Alice campus.

The town is situated in one of the most rural parts of the Eastern Cape, so much so that many would struggle to find it on a map without resorting to Google.

But it was here that UFH centre-back Athenkosi Masiza fell in love with the Beautiful Game as a child.

Despite having no proper facilities, the young Kaizer Chiefs fan learnt to play soccer on the dusty patches of land synonymous with the region.

There were no screaming fans, only the occasional sheep or goat bleating its disapproval if a stray ball came its way.

Masiza was just as serious about his education at Bethania Senior Secondary School as he was about his football. And, having matriculated well, he was able to enrol at Fort Hare last year.

A scant 17 months on, the Bsc Agriculture student is considered one of UFH’s shining lights in the ongoing FNB Varsity Football tournament, for which his team qualified for the first time in five long years.

His coach Mongile Nyasana believed he was playing the best soccer of his young life – and more than just a few analysts had taken note.

UFH - Football - Varsity Football - Athenkosi Masiza

Only a few years ago Fort Hare defender Athenkosi Masiza was learning to play soccer on dusty patches of rural land. Now he is a standout performer in Varsity Football. Photo: Full Stop Communications

Notwithstanding the 4-0 loss to UWC last time out, he has been brilliant in defence alongside the likes of Bonke Nxiwa, Athenkosi Jezi, Mbeko Mbungane and Someleze Kapte.

“I love everything about football,” he said ahead Fort Hare’s home clash against second-placed Tshwane University of Technology on Thursday. “And I want to make this team better.”

Given his humble beginnings, Masiza never thought it possible that he would one day play Varsity Football, let alone show off his talent to national television audiences.

Although he was “very nervous” when he saw the cameras rolling at their first televised game, he was thankfully able to put the stage fright behind him within minutes of the opening whistle. Once settled in, he proceeded to give the viewers a show they would not forget in a rush.

“Varsity Football is so fast compared to what I’m used to. There is such high quality there,” the 21-year-old admitted.

“If you are not playing with your heart and not mentally fit, you aren’t going anywhere. You have to give it your all for the full 90 minutes.”

He felt he had made great strides as a defender this season, making tackles when it counted – something that had alluded him previously.

Some of the players were hurting after the 3-1 and 4-0 away defeats to UJ and UWC, he said. These results effectively put paid to Fort Hare’s hopes of making the Varsity Football semi-finals.

However, since they were back on home turf on Thursday after three weeks on the road, he still felt they had what it took to spring a surprise on the more-fancied TUT.

“We have moved on from not making the semis and now we will be going out there to express ourselves. We feel we could pull off an upset.”

Masiza recognised that he would be considered one of the more senior players within the ranks this time next year, especially after having gained experience in tertiary soccer’s premier competition.

He was looking forward to it as he believed he could help the new generation of players coming through.

“The biggest message I’ll give them is to keep playing as much as they can.”

Fort Hare fans will be hoping Masiza does the same given his outstanding performances this season.