CLASS OF 2024: The disciplined athlete who led McKay to a state championship

Abdoulie Jallow once set off a small manhunt when he failed to come home from soccer practice.

His brother reported the 2024 McKay High School graduate, 19, wasn’t anywhere to be found. Soccer coaches drove around the neighborhood, searching frantically and growing increasingly worried as the time approached 9 p.m.

“We couldn’t find him anywhere,” coach Julio Cuellar said.

Jallow was eventually discovered heading home, unaware his absence had triggered the concern. It had been a bitterly cold and windy day.

“I was in the locker room, warming up,” he said, a sheepish grin on his face as he recalled the moment in an interview, surrounded by coaches.

Oregon weather was the primary challenge Jallow faced as a soccer player new to Salem. He immigrated to the city from The Gambia in December 2021. He, his mother and siblings joined Jallow’s father, who worked at the hospital. They hoped for a better education.

Teachers and coaches said he was shy at first. Jallow spoke English, along with West African languages Mandinka and Wolof, but didn’t often speak up in class or at practice. In addition to soccer, he runs track.

He was used to writing out schoolwork by hand and struggled to keep up in class at first, unused to using a computer to find and turn in assignments.

On the field, he was quiet, just smiling and holding a thumbs up in response to directions, Cuellar said. He’d show up with three jackets and gloves on as he adapted to the colder climate.

But his playing quickly distinguished him.

As a junior, Jallow led the boys team to the school’s first state sports title since 1986, scoring both goals in the 2-1 championship win against West Albany. Jallow got a yellow card after the first goal because he took off his shirt in celebration. His panicked coaches told him if he scored again, he had to remain clothed so he wouldn’t get kicked out.

“They smacked the ball in my face, I got nose bleeding but I still went into play,” he said.

“Did you cry, Abdu?” Cuellar asked him. “Be honest, bro.”

“In my heart, I did,” Jallow responded.

That was the culmination of an undefeated season where Jallow scored 17 goals.

He had high hopes for his senior season, but the team struggled as opponents worked harder against them. Jallow recalled playing with opposing coaches yelling, “Three on nine! Three on nine!” signaling three of their players should guard him. The team went 11-4 and ranked sixth in the state.

Jallow said he was initially disappointed, but knows being a winner sometimes means losing too.

“I was like, now, our senior year we’re gonna do better,” Jallow said. “I take it as fate. I think we really have a good team this season too.”

As he’s adjusted to Salem, his grades have improved, which coaches said reflects his dedication.

“What’s helped Abdu transition into the environment has been his discipline. As a coach, it’s rare to see that player that’s super disciplined,” said coach Javier Gutierrez Baltazar.

The spring sports season overlaps with Ramadan, which means Jallow fasts from sunrise until sunset while competing, along with his younger brother Musa, who also plays soccer.

“I haven’t met any other players that are willing to do that,” Gutierrez Baltazar said.

Jallow is heading to Southwestern Oregon Community College in Coos Bay next year, where he will play soccer and track. He’s eager to be away from home and forge his own identity.

“It’s just me, trying to experience some life,” he said.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

A MOMENT MORE, PLEASE– If you found this story useful, consider subscribing to Salem Reporter if you don’t already. Work such as this, done by local professionals, depends on community support from subscribers. Please take a moment and sign up now – easy and secure: SUBSCRIBE.

Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.