Zakariya Abdullahi, a 2016 Lewiston High School graduate and starting defender on the school’s 2015 Class A boys soccer state championship team, died Thursday as a result of injuries suffered after being hit by a car while on a religious trip in Saudi Arabia.

Abdullahi had been in a coma at a Saudi hospital since the accident more than two weeks ago. A GoFundMe campaign to cover costs for an air ambulance to transfer Abdullahi back to the United States for continued medical care raised more than $124,000, most of which was raised in the initial 24 hours after it was set up last week by another former Lewiston boys soccer standout, Bilal Hersi.

Former Lewiston boys soccer coach Mike McGraw, who led the program in that first state championship season in 2015, said Abdullahi’s passion for soccer was matched by his passion for religion.

Amy Bass, who wrote a book, “One Goal,” about the 2015 team and has stayed connected to many of its players and their families, recalled the last text she received from Abdullahi on Jan. 5.

“He was very emotional because he had visited one of his old schools and the memories were flooding him everywhere,” Bass said. “The whole trip was incredibly emotional for him. It was filled with family and spirituality, and regaining a sense of place that was so important to him.”

Abdullahi had been living in Minnesota with his mother, Fadumo Sheekh Yusuf, with whom he went on the religious trip along with his older brother Karim. His father, Abdullahi Abdulle, still lives in Lewiston.

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McGraw said he had seen Abdullahi a couple times since his graduation in 2016, and had communicated with him some through email. But he mostly followed Zakariya and Karim’s lives through Facebook, including their travels to try out for professional soccer teams in places like Florida, California and Scotland.

“I think they were very well-received, it was just that they would have to sponsor themselves, and they couldn’t do that right away,” McGraw said. “But certainly the talent was there.”

McGraw added: “It looked like they were enjoying being young men in the world, and it’s such a tragedy. And tragedy may not be a good enough description, when it comes to what we’ve lost.”

Bass called Abdullahi “beyond a great kid.”

“He was a light. Hilarious and brilliant and kind,” she said.

Kevin Dillingham, a friend and schoolmate of Abdullahi’s, told the Sun Journal that Abdullahi was the “happiest person I’ve ever met. Friends with everyone.”

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McGraw said he has been flooded with memories of Abdullahi ever since of the news of his accident a few weeks ago.

“The things that I remember probably the most was his effervescent personality, his competitiveness, his talent and skill,” McGraw said. “How much fun he was. How he could get argumentative with his friends for just about anything. I mean, if he was being competitive about a pickup game of soccer or determining which was better nutritionally — a chicken sandwich or a hamburger.

“You know, it was just one of those things where he was just so full of energy, full of life. He made incredible friends, and his personality, I think, probably, is what I remember the most, outside of certain individual things that he had done.”

Zakariya Abdullahi, right, helped anchor the defense that helped Lewiston win its first boys soccer state championship in 2015. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

McGraw, along with current Lewiston coach Dan Gish, who was an assistant on the 2015 team, called Abdullahi one of the best soccer defenders they’d ever seen.

One of Abdullahi’s brightest moments on the field for the Blue Devils was one of the most important of that championship season.

“There was one particular instance that sticks out in my mind, and that’s in the state championship game when a Scarborough attacker, who was very good, put a move on Zak that would just destroy normal defenders, and he did a poke check with his toe that popped the ball free, and I think the guy’s eyes just popped out of his head to think that (Zak) actually took the ball from him,” McGraw said. “That’s one major memory. And that was a critical point in the game because neither team had scored at that time. So that’s one. There are other, different personal experiences that I’ve had with him that I’m just going to keep close to the heart with me.”

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Abdullahi leaves behind a legacy that McGraw said includes both his exploits on the soccer field as well as his “huge energy” and his faith, which McGraw called “so very strong.”

McGraw said the quick response to the GoFundMe for Abdullahi “showed how much of an impact a young man has had on a community.”

“I mean, that was just an astounding response in a community and it showed you the love in the community they have for a person like Zak,” McGraw added. “And it showed you the impact that he made.”

 

Sun Journal photographer Russ Dillingham contributed to this report.

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