LAND O’ LAKES — The American Dream is what most immigrants are looking for when they move to the United States.
A chance at a better life.
For former Academy at the Lakes defensive end Max Stepanets, who graduated this past spring, a move from Russia to America was just the opportunity he needed to escape from living in poverty and create opportunities for himself and his family.
In the fall of 2007, Eric Wilson, who is currently Stepanets’ guardian, met Max — along with six other boys from Russia — after he was hired as part of a charity group from South Florida to be their house parent. Taking them in, Wilson grew close with each of them, but budget cuts in 2008 shut down the program, leaving Wilson with the task of having to return the boys to Russia while breaking the bad news to their respective families.
Wilson set out to find a solution for bringing the boys back to the U.S., and with the help of a few friends, he founded the RenProject. Stepanets was one of three students offered the opportunity to return to America, and Wilson and the charity identified Academy at the Lakes as the home school for the boys.
Upon their return, Wilson noticed almost immediately was the interest Stepanets for the game of American football. From the moment he picked up a football, it seemed Stepanets and the game were a perfect match.
“I don’t know what it was,” Wilson said. “Besides maybe watching my Colts play, I don’t know what gravitated him to football. He was just determined to really play football. He works really hard at it every day. The first thing I did was I put him in the i-9 type leagues so he could get used to the rules of football.”