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Planting the seeds

Sapong finds success on and off the pitch


 

SUMMARY: Former JMU men's soccer standout CJ Sapong ('10) found success early in his MLS career. But he wasn't fulfilled. He wanted to change lives. In February 2017, Sapong founded Sacred Seeds, which empowers underserved communities through nutrition, education and community building.


By Khalil Garriott (’04)

He was the 10th overall draft pick and MLS Rookie of the Year in 2011. In 2012, he won the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and debuted with the U.S. Men’s National Team. He became MLS Cup champion in 2013.

Even after all that success early in his career, CJ Sapong (’10) wasn’t fulfilled. He wanted to change lives. A personal battle with injury led him to realize that he can’t play soccer forever. Couple Sapong’s foresight for needing a post-soccer career with a yearning for fulfillment and positively impacting others, and you have Sacred Seeds Inc.

CJ Sapong kids
After suffering injuries on the field, Sapong became interested in nutrition and helping others, especially in underserved communities, become more healthy.  

In February 2017, Sapong founded Sacred Seeds, which empowers underserved communities through nutrition, education and community building. While recovering from soccer injuries, Sapong preferred nutritional methods over painkillers and pushed himself to think bigger.

“The human body is interesting in that it will adapt to whatever environment it’s put in,” Sapong said. “You might think that you’re healthy, but you’re really kind of running on 50%. So, I said, ‘Well, why aren’t more people nourished?’ They’re not educated about it.”

Sacred Seeds provides educational agricultural opportunities for youth while promoting self-sustainability and growth of their communities. Through the development of urban gardens and farms, Sapong’s foundation is paying it forward for the next generation. As a self-described “citizen of the universe,” the Manassas, Virginia, native leverages his professional athlete platform to elevate those around him.

CJ Sapong urban garden
Through the development of urban gardens and farms, Sapong’s foundation is paying it forward for the next generation.

“We have an opportunity to really expand in any facet of society we wish,” Sapong said of Sacred Seeds. “Being able to understand that there is a lot more out there, and to traverse those lands with a powerful sense of being, that’s what will lead you to opportunities that will allow you to continue to grow.”

Through his nonprofit, Sapong is helping grow the future for underserved communities. He’s living out his mission of practicing a more conscious and healthful lifestyle.

On the pitch, he’s evolved from promising young talent to savvy veteran as MLS celebrates its 25th season. After four seasons each with Sporting Kansas City and the Philadelphia Union, the forward has settled in with Chicago Fire FC. In 2019, Sapong netted a team-high 13 goals along with a pair of assists, while tying for the most appearances in his first season with Chicago.

The speedy striker has regained his 2017 form (16 goals and five assists with the Union), proving his versatility as the lone marksman up top or positioned on the wing. The former JMU soccer standout was the first JMU player to be first-team all-conference four times.

Sapong returned to campus in December 2019. Among the items on his itinerary was speaking to JMU student-athletes about ways they can maximize their potential on and off the pitch.

CJ Sapong JMU 300 wide

“I had amazing experiences with students, other athletes, coaches and a lot of people that, 10 years later, I can really recognize how they helped shape who I am today,” he said. “I would like … to help student-athletes understand how this is going to work after college.”

Sapong said that despite the considerable changes on campus since he left a decade ago, the essence of JMU remains. “Students, staff and even local organizations are dedicated to the progression of themselves and the people around them,” he posted on Instagram after his visit.

The affable Sapong hasn’t yet completed his degree, but he’s excited to have recently found the Small Business Management and Entrepreneurship track through the Adult Degree Program. With several years of life wisdom now under his belt, he recognizes the importance of applying the knowledge gained in the classroom to real life.

“You’ve gotta be able to swallow your pride to do things that you think might better yourself or people around you,” Sapong said.

CJ Sapong classroom

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Published: Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Last Updated: Wednesday, April 8, 2020

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