Enock Gota sits in the library at Dekaney High School, high ceilings overhead and a wall of windows letting in the late-winter sunlight, quietly reading a book. It’s a rare break for the senior, since the majority of his time is spent in class, working with his ROTC classmates, or on the field as a member on both the football and soccer teams.
But for Gota, keeping busy is exactly the point. It is where he draws inspiration.
“I try to draw inspiration from as many people and places as possible,” Gota said.
Asked to name some inspirations, he lists everyone from his football coach to his ROTC chief to his parents, as well as retired Navy SEAL and author David Goggins and fictional movie characters.
“I want to incorporate parts of them, but at the end of the day I am still me,” Gota said.
Whatever his inspiration, Gota has his own list of achievements. Born in Togo in west Africa, Gota had a typical childhood, but one that was punctuated with periods of political violence.
After a long-standing leader of the country died in 2005, violence broke out in Togo over claims of an unfair election. Gota fled his native village with his family to the country’s capital and largest city Lomé. The violence in his native village eventually killed 400 people.
“A memory I will never forget: We were hiding from some troops. I remember hiding from them, and my aunt carrying me on her back,” Gota said. “We fell down, but I remember not crying because somehow I knew that I needed to be quiet.”
Then in 2015, he moved to the United States to be with his parents. At just 11 years old, he had no knowledge of his new country or the English language.
“When I first got here, it was rough. I admit it,” Gota said. “I was picked on. I didn’t speak English. I was easy pickings. And when that happened, I would go to the office but I couldn’t express myself. I couldn’t communicate.”
But within the year, after enrolling in an ESL program, he became fluent in English (along with his native Ewe and French) and had joined his middle school football team as a kicker, both steps he credits to helping him find his way here.
“I always played soccer, and didn’t really want to play football. The head coach convinced me to give football a try, because he needed a kicker at the time,” Gota said. “Then I gave it a shot, and that first kick I did not know what I was doing. But everybody started clapping their hands. That helped me to start to fit in.”
And this fall, just a few years after starting a new life in a new country in a new language, Gota will head to Rice University to play football and study computer science. Gota announced those plans in early February, as one of three Dekaney athletes to sign athletic scholarships on National Signing Day.
That day, the stands were filled with several of his fellow ROTC students and instructors, chanting his name.
“Very seldom do you find somebody like Enock. Someone at the top of his game when it comes to physical fitness, academics in school,” Chief Petty Officer Victor Adams, who heads up the ROTC program at Dekaney, said. “He’s a great model for the other kids. They love him to death. He just brings out all the great attributes in others.”
ROTC has always been a safe space for Gota, and he attributes his success so far to his time in the program.
“It really helped me build out my confidence. It’s all about confidence at the end of the day,” Gota said. “Once you get that confidence, you can do whatever you put your mind to. I truly believe that.”
That confidence has put Gota into a leadership position within the program, as Battalion Commander. It’s a role that Chief Adams said is a natural fit for Gota, and one that benefits the entire program.
“I think our core group of ROTC kids are so good now because of him, because they heard the perspective of where he came from,” Adams said. “He’s open to sharing his background and his struggles, and what he’s done to get here. They need to hear that perspective.”
As he prepares for graduation in just a few short months, Gota often looks back on the past few years and acknowledges the impact it has had on him.
“Growing up, not having a lot, sometimes going a couple of days without really eating, that’s what makes me work hard, remembering those memories,” he said. “But making my parents proud, that’s really important to me. Growing up, they didn’t really have any of this. They told me stories of how they struggled growing up. Being able to live the life that I’m living here, I’m really appreciative because I know they didn’t have that. And we do now.”