July 30, 2014 at 1:00 am

Once-homeless Detroiter joins in for new challenge - soccer

Detroit Team Resilience players Shane Hardemon, 38, left, and Uzi Farooq , 37, talk with coach Andy Kotsovos. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)

Detroit — Darnell Slocum lived on the streets of Detroit, picking through garbage cans as he searched for a change to his crumbling life.

He’d just lost his job installing plumbing and cooling equipment, along with his Detroit home and family, and the winter proved to be harsh and unforgiving.

“I hated going through that,” the 43-year-old said, “but life is about a lot of ups and downs and turmoil.”

Slocum was one of an estimated 25,000 homeless in Detroit.

Now, he’s off the streets and lives in an apartment. And on Friday, Slocum leaves for New York City to play a sport he didn’t care about four months ago — soccer.

He will represent Detroit in the first Street Soccer USA Cup in Times Square.

“I don’t know what position I am playing, but I know I am going to enjoy myself and be the best I can be,” Slocum said. “It is going to be a great experience not just for me but for everybody else. “

Detroit Team Resilience — all the players live in apartments on the Neighborhood Service Organization complex — was provided the opportunity to play in New York thanks to Quicken Loans, DTE Energy and the NSO. Part of the criteria was for the players to show they wanted to get off drugs, find employment and make a permanent transition into mainstream society.

If Detroit wins this weekend, it will play in the national tournament in San Francisco, where winners advance to the Homeless World Cup in Santiago, Chile, in October.

“Eight men came in as individuals, and now they are a team,” said Sheilah Clay, president and CEO of the NSO. “Now they have to depend on each other.”

And this weekend, the players will look to their captain, Uzi Farooq, for guidance. Farooq is the only player on the team with soccer experience, having played in Egypt, the Sudan and Jordan.

“They are learning something new,” Farooq said. “Out in the streets you are your sole beneficiary. You are the only one providing for yourself. Now they are learning to depend on teammates.”

And in turn, they are providing hope for those who may have lost their way in these troubled economic times.

Andy Kotsovos, coach of the team, knows he and a number of Detroit companies are helping people who need hope.

“This puts a lot of things in perspective,” he said of playing soccer in a high-profile tournament. “You have a bigger appreciation for life.”

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