Devyn Jambga, middle, was born in St. Louis and moved with his family to his father’s home country of Zimbabwe when he was 4. He’s been an early bright spot for FC Tucson.

Devyn Jambga’s entire life is connected to Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

Jambga’s parents met on campus, where his mother played softball and his father played soccer for the Cougars. When it was time to pick a college, Jambga and his two siblings picked SIUE — in fact, they never considered anyplace else.

So imagine how Jambga felt at the end of the 2018 season, when he was released by the USL Championship side Portland Timbers 2. There was uncertainty, sure, but he had a chance to go wherever he wanted.

Even Tucson.

After signing with FC Tucson on a trial basis, Jambga has become an early success story. He has scored one goal and had five shots in four league appearances. He and the Men in Black play Saturday against the Richmond Kickers in Virginia.

Jambga credits FC Tucson’s Austin Ledbetter, a fellow SIUE grad, for leading him to his new team.

“I kind of had a choice between two places, but because Led is my friend and he told me it was great here, I decided to come here instead of going somewhere else,” he said.

Jambga and Ledbetter were both born in St. Louis, 20 miles southwest of where they eventually met in college. But while Ledbetter was raised in Missouri, Jambga and his family moved back to his father’s home country of Zimbabwe when he was 4. While there, his father ran a weekend soccer league. Soon enough, Jambga found himself playing every day of the week.

Jambga traveled back to the U.S. during summers to visit his mother’s family. During those trips, Jambga would take part in soccer clinics and camps.

When it came time to consider where to continue his education, Jambga picked SIUE. Africa didn’t have the type of school he was looking for.

“I felt like, for me, being an American citizen, it would be easier for me to come over here,” Jambga said. “I just felt like college soccer was the right choice for me. If I could have gone pro out of high school, I would have tried, but I just didn’t think I was good enough. I didn’t have an academy I was brought up in — I just learned everything by playing and by being around my dad.”

Because he grew up playing a different style of soccer — Jambga said it’s more about “showboating” in Africa — he never really played on youth teams. He had to adjust to playing soccer in America.

In order to relearn the structure, Jambga redshirted his first year at SIUE.

“I had to learn a lot of the structure of the game here, so it took me a little while to adjust,” Jambga said. “My dad taught me everything I knew before, but obviously soccer’s changed since he played a long time ago.”

Soccer and SIUE have provided Jambga stability throughout his life. Now, he hopes to find something similar in Tucson.

Jambga says he’s grateful for the opportunities his newest club has already provided, and he’s excited for the future. One of his goals this year is to play for the Zimbabwean national team. Jambga recently finished his paperwork and is waiting to hear back.

“I’d love to see exactly how far I can take it before my body gets old and I’m not able to do it anymore,” Jambga said. “I have a college degree and that lasts forever, but soccer can last forever. So, while I’m young, I’d like to chase the dream. I just don’t want to have any regrets at the end of the day.”

Contact reporter Norma Gonzalez at 520-262-3265 or ngonzalez@tucson.com.

Sports reporter

Norma started at the Star in 2017. She's a sports reporter covering all types of beats. She graduated from the University of Texas–Pan American in 2014 and recently graduated from the Associated Press Sports Editors Diversity Fellowship program.