-By Benjamin Peacock
If you’re looking for a good home-cooked meal served with an African flair, then be sure to hit up returning Little Rock Rangers Forward Donald Benamna. His culinary skills are world-renowned, as is–it is worth mentioning–his game on the volleyball court. Okay that may be over-selling it a bit, but the truth is Donald did not start out as a footballer. Born in Bangui, Central Africa Republic, Donald had strong family ties to volleyball with his dad being a head coach and his older brother being quite an ace in the sport.
He enjoyed kicking around a ball on a pitch beginning around five years old, and when his father moved to the United States to work for the embassy when Donald was seven, his focus started to shift. The rest of the family moved to Maryland in 2009 when he was 12. He spent a year in middle school and all of high school there, where he played for ASA Milan Blackhawks until he went off to college.
San Diego State University offered Donald a full scholarship and for one year, he played there, as well as for a team called Milan Rosseneri. The year after that, he transferred to a community college in Houston, TX, where he earned his Associate Degree of General Studies. He then transferred to the University of Central Arkansas.
“It was a funny story, before UCA called me I didn’t know Arkansas existed,” Donald said. “I was being recruited by other schools and I wanted to go to the University of Central Florida but the head coach got let go.”
From that point he had a choice to make to go where a program was dealing with some turmoil or visit this place he had not heard of. But upon visiting and receiving their offer, he knew UCA had a good deal for him. Donald played for a year for the Bears and earned his Bachelors in Health Education.
Donald’s list of experiences in the game is extensive. His Blackhawks worked their way from division 5 to division 1, winning many trophies along the way. While in California he played for the combine team, participating in the Dallas Cup and Surf Cup. In 2012, he was named the MVP of the Surf Cup tournament. Back in Maryland, he twice received the Golden Boot award, All American in junior college, and for UCA he was recognized for “outstanding athletic performance – men’s all conference”.
While he gives full due to Cristiano Ronaldo as one of the greatest footballers, Donald’s greatest motivation came from Luis Nani, a Portuguese winger for Orlando City SC.
“The first time I found out about him I was watching soccer after coming to America. He played in a pre-season game when I saw him play so fast and skillful and creative. His quickness–that’s how I want to play,” he explained.
On a more personal note, Donald has had a special relationship with his first English tutor, Grace Kornke. A long time friend of the family, she has been like a second mother to him. You could hear the emotion in his voice as he described how Grace has been by his side since day one. Donald also gives full credit to his club coaches in his journey, who still are in communication with him today.
Very much a homebody, Donald lives and breathes soccer. Training, staying in shape, and kicking the ball every day are priorities. He is also working on a part-time job at an elderly care facility.
“I grew up with my grandmother and she taught me a lot to be respectful and to help other people. We live by lifting up other people. Me giving my time is good for me and teaches me a lot. It is a blessing,” he said.
What else is to Donald Benamna, you ask? A few rapid fire questions will help in getting to know him.
Who is your favorite soccer team(s)?
Orland City SC (for Nani) and Manchester United. Back home, they were big. When I was 11, they were playing Chelsea in Champions League final. The whole family was watching the game and I said ‘the red team will win’ and they did, so that became my team.
All-time Favorite Movie?
Think Like a Man
Favorite place to eat?
The only time I go out is when my girlfriend is town and I’d probably say Red Lobster.
If you had the day off tomorrow with no training or worries, how would you spend it?
I have to make sure I touch the ball every day. Then I would probably link up with friends and play some FIFA. We like to talk and make fun of each other.
Whose concert would you travel a long way to see?
What is one super power you wish you had?
Teleport so I could go back home. I haven’t been back since moving here.
What is your spirit animal?
Monkeys because they are funny. I watch Animal Planet and National Geographic a lot. I like lion cubs too, but the big ones… nuh uh, don’t get close.
What is the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?
It was this Asian food; I have no idea what it was. It had no taste. It was some kind of snack. It was like chewing on a plastic bag.
Donald returned to Little Rock recently along with roommate and Rangers goalkeeper Walid Birrou. Players are in full swing with training as Donald’s second season with the team approaches. He took interest in the team in 2017 but was too late to make the roster. When 2018’s season approached, Donald intended on sticking around to take some summer classes. Rangers captain Nick Doyle (and fellow African brother, he noted) connected Donald to head coach Will Montgomery.
Donald recalled what he thought of the chance to play for the Rangers. “If this team is going to make history, I want to be a part of that history. I like to be part of a new project. I like being challenged, and a new team is going to have challenges coming their way.”
The Rangers’ first ever playoff game at home versus Tulsa Athletic was a highlight of the 2018 season. Donald remembered talking with his dad before the game and never being so nervous before a match.
“I told him ‘Mark my words, we’re going to make history.’ We talked about it; we did it,” he recounted. “I told my dad I would score and when I scored the winning goal I froze, realizing I just did.”
Speaking of making history, in 2019 the Rangers are going to be pushing further than before. With the team having the main conference target on their back and the US Open Cup tournament, the type of challenges Donald thrives on are sure to come.
“This year will be harder than last year. Every team will want to beat us. [The players] will stick together and execute what we train for,” he affirmed. “We need fans to bring it on, support us no matter what. It is all about having fun on the field. Last year the fans were great, and I know they’ll be greater this year!”