UMass Profile: Vladimir Ducasse
Sept. 2, 2009
By Ron Chimelis
His family has never seen Vladimir Ducasse play football, and remains ambivalent about his career in the sport, even as the NFL beckons. He has not been home in seven years, and he won't go back until it is safer, he says.
"Haiti is going through a lot right now, with the economy and all," said Ducasse, a University of Massachusetts senior captain and left offensive tackle. "At one time, it was calm. Now, there is almost a war going on. I don't think my father would be thrilled for me to go back." While safety concerns keep Ducasse from going home, career goals are driving him forward at UMass. A preseason All-American whose season opens Saturday at Kansas State, he is a projected NFL draft pick, by the fourth round or higher.
American football does not exist in Haiti, and Ducasse never experienced the sport until coming to the United States in 2002. After living briefly with an aunt in Florida, he moved to Connecticut, where he lived with an uncle and attended Stamford High School.
"The main reason for the move was education," he said. "The school system in Haiti was good, but most people look for a job after school. My dad wanted me to have a (college) education."
A soccer goalie as a youth in Port Au Prince, Ducasse tried out for basketball in Stamford as a freshman. He didn't make it.
"My sophomore year, I didn't do anything. My junior year, a friend of mine was on the football team, and I would go out and watch practice," he said.
Already on his way to growing into his current 6-foot-5, 330-pound frame, Ducasse attracted the attention of Kevin Jones, the Stamford football coach. Almost at first sight, Jones invited Ducasse to try out for the team.
"He had a big influence on me. I started out as a defensive tackle, but I wound up playing both ways," Ducasse said.
Most players watch film to learn opponents' tendencies. In 2004, Ducasse started watching film to learn the rules of a new sport.
"I watched a lot of film, before and after practice, almost every day," he said. "I kind of picked up the rules during the games."
Ducasse's mother died when he was 5. His father, Delinois, still lives in Haiti. He has family on the East Coast. To them, this football business is still very new and very unfamiliar.
"My family was not that thrilled about my playing football," he said.
For the most part, those reservations remain. The sport is, after all, very un-Haitian, a totally foreign concept to the country's culture. But Ducasse, who turns 22 in October, has assimilated well. A native speaker of French and Creole, he learned English as a high school freshman.
The New England weather doesn't faze him. UMass also has a handful of players with Jamaican background, and a receiver, sophomore junior college transfer Jesse Julmiste, with Haitian roots.
Ducasse's biggest adjustment this year is the departure of Liam Coen, the Minutemen's star quarterback.
"I was used to Liam's style," he said. "When the other quarterbacks make a call, I still have to remind myself it's not Liam's team."
Ducasse played for UMass as a true freshman. He became a starter as a sophomore. His work ethic, among other qualities, excites NFL scouts now. A new world awaits him, but he has not forgotten Haiti, a nation that remains a mystery to most citizens of the outside world.
It is known primarily for poverty, political corruption, coups and intervention by foreign countries, notably France and the United States. Standing on the threshold of prominence, Ducasse hopes to let people know it is more. He also dreams of seeing it again.
"I'd like to educate people about Haiti," he said. "I'd like to do anything I can to help Haiti. And when it's a little safer, I'd like to go back."