ABBOTSFORD — His nickname is Big’un, and it’s one that University of the Fraser Valley central defender Sahib Sidhu has worn every bit as naturally as the spacious No. 22 Cascades’ jersey he first pulled on in the fall of 2018.
“When they come in as first-years, you look at them and you say ‘That’s a first-year player,’” remarked UFV head men’s soccer coach Tom Lowndes of the vast majority of incoming Canada West rookies. “They are under-sized, or physically not as strong as the second-, third-, fourth- and fifth-year guys. But Sahib… he’s had that physical presence since Day 1.”
Yet as the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Sidhu, along with the rest of his teammates, were put through their paces Tuesday as part of UFV’s first official team training session of an uncertain 2020 season, the nickname itself appeared to have to grown.
Suddenly, calling him Big’un seemed doubly fitting.
After a summer spent in quarantine, working out daily in the gym at his family home in Surrey, Sidhu had returned for his third university season with an aerial presence and overall on-field stature which seemed more unquestioned than ever.
Yet beyond all of that, as a global community of university student-athletes comes to grips with an era of new realities and subsequent deep introspection regarding the future, it’s the likes of Sidhu whose actions can’t help but inspire.
Over his first season at Fraser Valley, he not only earned a starting position within the heart of the defence, he was chosen the Cascades’ Male Rookie of the Year across all sports after helping the team reach the conference semifinals.
That same season, the kinesiology major and graduate of Surrey’s Fleetwood Park Secondary School was also chosen the Cascades’ Male Academic Athlete of the Year with an eye-popping 4.17 grade-point average. This past season’s award has not yet been announced, but Sidhu would once again seem to be in contention after upping his GPA to 4.18.
“I am full dedicated and committed to both athlete and student life,” Sidhu said by phone following practice on Tuesday.
“Honestly, despite the conditions brought on by the pandemic, I feel blessed that I can train every day with my teammates. (UFV) is still honouring our scholarships. And there is a chance that that we might be able to play in some weekend games. Things could be a lot worse.”
Canada West cancelled its fall season, including men’s and women’s soccer, this past June 8.
A FOUNDATIONAL TALENT
As the architect of one of the most successful overall boys and girls senior varsity soccer programs in B.C. high school history, Fleetwood Park head coach Sunny Uppal knows how rare foundational players are and that is just how he describes Sahib Sidhu.
“He was a rock in terms of bringing stability to us,” remembers Uppal of Sidhu, who also starred in the club ranks with Surrey United. “He was the kind of guy you could build your team around.”
And it was that spirited personality, the one which embraced every challenge with huge passion, that Uppal most remembers.
“He was in my weight training class and he never missed a day,” the coach said of Sidhu. “He was that kid that lifted in the morning with me, played for the high school team after school and then went to his club practice later that evening. When you told him to do something, he took it heart.”
He also stayed patient in terms of finding the perfect post-secondary landing spot, one which would allow him the opportunity to both excel in the classroom and further blossom on the soccer field.
By May of his senior year, weighing his offers and electing to remain local, Sidhu chose Fraser Valley, and as Cascades’ head coach Lowndes fondly remembers, no one has looked back since.
“Centre-back was a position we wanted to solidify,” Lowndes says, “and he took the opportunity right from minute one in the preseason. He came in and made that position his own and from Game 1, it was his position to lose.”
Of course a big part of the story that rookie season was how Sidhu learned under the wing of then fifth-year senior and fellow central defender Tammer Byrne, who as a three-time Canada West all-star and 2018 U Sports All-Canadian, holds the distinction of being the most decorated player in program history.
“Tammer is one of the best I have ever played with, and his leadership and presence on the field was enormous,” relates Sidhu, who games or no games this season, ascends into a key leadership role on the team. “It’s almost hard to speak in words, but he was like everyone’s wall. He looked after everyone, and that was the best you could get.”
THE TRUE DEFINITION OF BIG
The Canada West cancelled its fall sports season back in early June, yet member schools have held onto the hope that they may be able to play exhibition games against some form of competition, and for local schools like UFV, Trinity Western and UBC, the possibility still remains that in some cohort form, they could initiate competition with top senior men’s soccer teams in their immediate region.
With such fluid conditions present, as well as much discussion and investigation still ahead, nothing is as yet official.
Yet for the purposes of motivation, it’s the kind of carrot that is nothing but healthy for players like Sidhu and the rest of the Cascades.
In fact for someone so dedicated to both his sport and his studies, it’s inspiring to glimpse the attitude with which he continues to greet each day of the pandemic.
“With me, I give 100 per cent to everything, be it soccer, school, volunteering or anything I do,” says Sidhu, who not only kept busy all summer through his own training regimen, but also found the time to log on and take six credits worth of classes. “I strive to be my best always, and I have big ambitions and goals after I finish school.”
That includes either pursuing a PhD or going into medicine, and when the times comes that Sidhu is able to get back into the classroom with his professors and fellow students, he feels the discipline he’s honed to keep up his grades in a virtual setting will help him to be an even more self-focused student.
“Some students would prefer less interaction but he thrives on it,” Lowndes says. “Hopefully sooner rather than later we can get back to in-person classes. Sahib’s grades speak for themselves. He knows what he wants and he stops at nothing to achieve it.”
Adds Uppal: “People want to be better, but they don’t want to put in the time. He’s worked on every aspect of himself. He is a true example of every step you need to take to become a great student-athlete.”
More than anything else, that’s why Sahib Sidhu has the perfect nickname. Even beyond his physical stature, he really is a Big’un.
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