Ukranian orphan building soccer in Calera

He was used to being on his own, only given food, a bed and little else at an orphanage in Ivankiv, Ukraine. At age 12, Nathan Langner’s main prayer was to be adopted. Being captain of one of Alabama’s newest soccer programs was nowhere on his radar.

Nathan, now 17 and a junior at Calera High School, came to Wilsonville in 2004 on a trip sponsored by the Children’s Voice Foundation. The missions group was bringing orphans to the U.S., not for adoption, but to give them an opportunity to experience a trip they might never have had a chance to experience, and to help spread the word of the orphanages in Ukraine.

That’s when Derek Langner met Nathan and younger brother Johnathan, who is now 11.

“It was kind of an indescribable draw that was there immediately,” said Derek, now 34. “I knew him three and a half days, and I asked him if he wanted me to try to adopt him.”

Nathan was excited. The process began and he moved to Calera in the fall of 2005, helping to start the Eagles’ club soccer team in the spring.

“He was a tiny little eighth-grade guy and couldn’t speak English,” Calera head coach Neal Gerhart said. “In the past, he would sometimes not see himself as the leader of the team, but now he realizes the strength that he has not only to play the game, but to lead the other guys.”

Nathan played soccer six years before coming to the U.S. He said he wasn’t that great, but once he started scoring goals things changed.

“I came here and I got better. People look up to me, and I look up to people better than me,” he said. “Since I came, I was trying hard to try to be a leader. If it’s tough, I still try harder and harder every day.”

That work ethic, which Nathan said comes from Ukraine, is something he hopes to teach his teammates. He also hopes to learn about different cultures from his team, which consists of Latin Americans, Americans and a German exchange student.

“It’s kind of fun. You learn from them something new, and they learn from me and I learn from them,” Nathan said.

In addition to soccer, Nathan dabbled as a placekicker for the Calera football team in 2007 and is keeping the idea open of kicking again for his senior season.