The Boys From Brazil

Carlos Moreno hopes to follow in his father's footsteps and play volleyball in the Olympics. (Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)

The United States was founded by people who left their countries searching for a better opportunity to add to the talents and skills they already possessed. Although their experiences are no longer recorded in the history books, many examples of such people are still found today.

Three of those people are here at BYU. Each seeks to benefit from the land of opportunity in a different way, but these three Brazilians, Rafael Paal, Fernando Pessoa and Carlos Moreno, all came originally for the same reason: to play volleyball. Now they claim BYU as their volleyball home, and are preparing for the 2003 season, hoping to lead the Cougars to their third national championship.

Outside of volleyball, Pessoa, just married Oct. 18 to the girl of his dreams, wants to go to dental school. Moreno, a young, energetic athlete with an outgoing personality, dreams of playing professional volleyball in Italy. Paal, a quiet man who works hard for success, hopes to work in international business.

The opportunity he is looking for, of course, is to continue playing volleyball and to graduate from a respected university, followed by an opportunity to work in an international company between Brazil and the U.S. Paal feels that he will have better opportunities in life if he has a degree from a university in the United States.

After the Brazilian National Team won the gold medal in volleyball at the 1992 Olympic games in Barcelona, Spain, the sport's popularity grew intensely. Now volleyball is second only to soccer, the long-time favorite of much of the world.

Paal, a senior from Rio di Janeiro, was playing soccer as a youth when a volleyball coach saw him and asked the 12-year-old if he would like to try playing volleyball.

"I went to one practice and liked it," Paal said. "Since that day I was practicing volleyball and soccer every day."

Paal officially made the switch when he went on a trip with the volleyball team and loved it. Leaving soccer behind was a tough decision, but the now a 6-6 middle blocker said he "was getting tall, and all the soccer guys were short."

Pessoa started playing volleyball in 1992 after Brazil won the Olympics. The six-foot-four junior liked the sport before, but became more excited and started playing with "the masses" who took interest after the Olympic win.

"I had a good coach," Pessoa, a native of Rio di Janeiro, said. "He liked me so he spent a lot of time with me, and I was very persistent so I got better."

Moreno's volleyball history began much earlier than the 1992 Olympics. His father, Antonio, played and served as team captain for the Brazilian National Team at the 1968, 1972, 1976 and 1980 Olympic games. Moreno, from Sao Paulo, grew up watching his father play and began playing himself when he was eleven years old.

"Since I was born I have watched (my father) play," Moreno said. "He is my idol. I had a coach in my own house, a really good coach, so I think I learned a lot from him. I would like to be an Olympian like him."

And so their story goes. Three young Brazilians, playing volleyball. Of course in Brazil everyone plays on a club team. There are no teams sponsored by high schools or universities. Players have to make it on their own.

For Pessoa, the club situation in Brazil is what changed his life. He was 19 years old, starting his first semester in college.

" It was hard because the professors don't care if you play a sport and the sport doesn't care if you study," Pessoa said.

How could he choose between the sport he loved and getting a college education?

Pessoa's mother, Therezinha, who worked at an American school, gave him the idea to look at schools in the United States where he could play volleyball while getting a good university education.

"I started searching the Internet for NCAA Division I schools, because I wanted to go to a good school," Pessoa said. "I sent e-mails, and a few universities offered me scholarships, and BYU had the best offer."

Moreno really wanted to come play at an American university. He also sent e-mails to various universities, and BYU head coach Carl McGown took notice.

Moreno was also impressed that the Cougars had won the National Championship the year before (2001), leading him to choose "the best team with the best scholarship."

So Pessoa and Moreno left their homes in Brazil and made the journey to BYU.

"I didn't know anything about BYU or Provo," Pessoa said. "It was a big shock when I got here."

Part of that shock was trying to communicate in English, a language much different from his native Portuguese.

"Everyone learns the basics in high school," Pessoa said. "But when I got here it seemed like a whole different language. I don't know how I passed the SAT and TOEFL, but somehow I did."

"I had a hard time at first, but it was nice having Raf (Paal) here to help me in practice," Moreno said. "They were always translating for me in practice. Now I can speak much better."

Still, the three Brazilians don't hesitate to speak to each other in Portuguese during practice. It's not unusual to hear a little argument or exchange of Portuguese words on the court.

"If we are mad at each other, it is easier to throw out words in Portuguese," Moreno said. And, according to Pessoa, it is better that nobody understands what they are saying.

They are not the only ones speaking the Brazilian language, however.

"We have a lot of people that are from Brazil or that served missions in Brazil come talk to us in Portuguese," Moreno said. "It's very nice. They come to practice their Portuguese."

Besides speaking their native language, listening to music from their home country--what they consider the best music in the world--helps lure away any homesickness.

"If I compare the U.S. to Brazil, I can't compare the people," Pessoa said. "The cultures are totally different."

But these Brazilian athletes have found something special about BYU--the Honor Code.

"In the beginning I was shocked," Moreno said of the Honor Code. "When I signed I didn't know anything about it; I just signed the papers they sent me, so I didn't really know. Then I started to really appreciate the lifestyle and the values (at BYU). People here are more happy, more healthy, and I really appreciate that."

Moreno, the oldest of five children in his family, hopes his youngest sister, Annalueza, will be able to come play outside hitter for BYU in a few years. The 15-year-old outside hitter is 6-3. His twin sister, Anna, is currently playing setter at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

"I am very happy and grateful to come to BYU, with the way it is here," Pessoa said. "I have special feelings for this place."

Now being so far from home, Paal, Pessoa and Moreno just hope that their families will be able to see them play, so they can share their successes with those closest to them. Not surprisingly, each of the three named his parents as his role models.

"In any way my parents can help me, they do," Paal said. "The way they work, that's what makes me work hard every day. The education they gave me is invaluable; school mostly, but also education about how to treat other people, about my country, how to be responsible, everything."

Now these three talented Brazilian athletes can add their stories to the long list of those who preceded them. They are now taking advantage of the great opportunity of America: to take what they have, and to add something more.

Tags: Feature