Oniqueky Samuels grew up in a part of Jamaica where daytime temperatures rarely drop out of the high 80s. Funny, then, that his favorite place in Maine is a ski hill in Fort Kent, where a few subzero days are no big deal. Samuels first arrived in northernmost Maine almost by accident: he was recruited to play soccer at a college in Kentucky, but the coach took a new job at the University of Maine at Fort Kent before his freshman year, in 2007, and he followed. Samuels learned to ski at Lonesome Pine Trails, a few T-bar–serviced slopes visible and walkable from Main Street. “I got to be average,” he says. “I could make it down without falling. But coming from a place you never see snow, being average is like being a superstar.”
Samuels, who represented Jamaica on youth national teams, was no slouch on the soccer field either, playing a key role on defense for the squad that won the 2010 USCAA national championship. He excelled in the classroom too, graduating magna cum laude. A lot of that success he attributes to faculty, staff, and community members going out of their way to help him feel at home. “I grew up in a small town where you go from one house to the next and say hello to everybody,” he says. “I felt that when I got to Fort Kent. Everybody’s looking out for their neighbors. And as an international student, you get so many invites for Thanksgiving and Christmas.”
There was nothing accidental about Samuels’s second arrival in Fort Kent. After college, he left Maine to attend grad school and to coach, but when UMFK’s coach retired, he jumped at the chance to come back and run the program. Since then, he has assembled perennial contenders in the USCAA, an alternative to the NCAA for small schools. After losing in the last two finals, Samuels is high on his current roster, which includes players from the U.S., Jamaica, Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, Granada, Germany, Ghana, Morocco, and Ecuador.
New recruits never have to wait long to meet Samuels’s favorite place. “The boys will laugh at this because we do a lot of training on that hill,” he says, “but they don’t find it too funny in the moment.” In the evening, he likes to stroll the hill by himself. “The lights come on in town and you can see the sunset,” Samuels says. “It’s a nice place to clear your head.” One thing he often thinks about is the welcome he and his players feel in Fort Kent. “The inside warmth is better than the outside cold,” he says. “This is why I stayed. On the map, Fort Kent can look isolated, but sometimes that’s a blessing in disguise.”