A few years ago, Erion Dede had no idea what the Northeast Vikings were.
Now he knows exactly what they are: champions.
Dede is a junior on the Northeast High School boys soccer team, and he’s been a key cog on the varsity squad since the end of his freshman year.
That turned out to be a little more than two years after he arrived in Northeast Philadelphia from his homeland, Albania.
“It wasn’t too bad coming here, the biggest challenge for me was learning the language,” said Dede, who went to Greenberg Elementary. “It was hard leaving everyone, I had a lot of friends there. I still talk to them, mostly on the phone or something like that. I do miss them, but I love it here.”
Now he has another reason to love it here.
On Friday at the Germantown SuperSite, Northeast knocked off Horace Furness 2-0 in the Public League championship. It’s the second straight year the Vikings have claimed the championship.
Anytime you win a championship, it’s a tremendous accomplishment. But this was exceptionally special for Dede because it marked the first time he won a championship at Northeast as a captain.
That responsibility was given to Dede in the summer, and ever since he earned his stripes, he’s been doing his best to lead, both on and off the field through his words and actions.
It’s going very well.
“Freshman year, I started on the tryouts and then I made the junior varsity team, and I was playing and playing for them,” Dede said. “At the end of my freshman year, I made it to the varsity team and that was very exciting. Last year we had a great year and won the championship, and the coaches really put me through a lot of work, getting me prepared to be a better person and player. At the end of my sophomore year, I was announced to be a captain for junior year.
“When I was told I was going to become captain as a junior, I never thought of it because usually seniors are the captains. It was really my best achievements. It teaches you to become a better leader. And I should be better my senior year.
“It was a really big honor. I was proud. I felt like I made my parents proud, they wanted me to be a good athlete, especially in high school. My parents are very proud.”
Dede is also happy because he helped Northeast, his second home, earn the title.
This year, Northeast is 12-0 overall, which of course also made them unbeaten in Public League play. Northeast lost a lot of good players last year to graduation, but thanks to the hard work of the players, and as Dede points out, the coaches, the Vikings were able to get back on top.
“It creates a second family for me, so when we win, it means a lot to me,” said Dede, who lives a few minutes from the school. “I spend so much time with the players and the coaches, so yeah, they’re a second family.
“I think we knew we could be good, it was after a preseason tournament during the summer. It was near the last games, we tried to switch a few things up a couple of times. The coaches found the perfect position for each player and that day we did it, we started playing really good. We knew that we really have something this year.
“The coaches push you. Hard training. But they make it fun. They want us to work very hard, but they push us hard and we have fun.”
Dede is happy to win. He’s also happy to help the team any way he can.
As a defensive midfielder, sometimes his game flies under the radar. As one of the top players, that could be a blow to his ego, but it’s anything but. In fact, it’s exactly how he likes it.
“I like being an important player, but I don’t need to get a lot of recognition,” Dede said. “We have so many good players on our team, I just try to do my job. Defensive midfielder, you get to do a lot.”
Now he’s hoping he can help the Vikings get into the state tournament. In their way is a very tough challenge.
Northeast will play La Salle on Thursday in a District 12 championship game. The Explorers got there by knocking off previously undefeated Father Judge 3-2 in the Catholic League championship on Saturday. It marked the second time in three years La Salle won the PCL championship.
“I’m really excited, I never played La Salle before, I don’t know a lot about them, I know they’re good,” Dede said. “It’s a mysterious feeling, when you get to play other teams. It’s fun. It’s fun to see how good you are when you play good teams.
“They’re very good, I know that, and I know they win a lot. I hope we can do our best and see what happens. It’ll be tough, but I like games like this. I think we all do.”
No matter how it plays out, Dede and his team have a lot to be proud of. On top of being a solid soccer star, he’s even stronger in the classroom, where he takes advanced-placement courses and is in the National Honor Society.
He credits his parents, as well as his older brother Daniel, 20, for setting a great example.
“My family is very close, they come to a lot of games, all of them they can,” Dede said. “Soccer is very important to my family, but school is even more important. They want me to do great in both, and I take both very seriously, too.”