“It was pretty emotional for me,” Papajani said. “It’s hard for me to describe the feeling, but coming from a background with parents who are immigrants, I know going to a school like this is a big opportunity for me.”
Papajani trains with Akron assistant coach Leo Chappel. The former Major League Soccer scout recommended Papajani to Grassie.
“We liked what we saw on video, but during COVID, as well as before, we prefer opinions from trusted coaches like Leo who recommend a player to get us started on the process,” Grassie said. “After that, we watched the film [and] scouted live to make sure we saw a pathway for the lad in our team. We’re excited to see Kosta’s impact and development with our squad.”
After leading Latin Academy to one of its best seasons in recent history, Papajani will join the reigning NCAA Division 1 national champion Thundering Herd, a rare feat for a soccer player from the Boston City League. One of the best players in BCL history, Papajani’s coaches and teammates say the midfielder’s character and leadership are his best traits.
Soccer was always in the plan for Papajani.
His father and uncles played while growing up in Greece. He still remembers the day he began playing at 4 years old in Millennium Park.
“We see soccer more as a religion, rather than just playing it for fun,” the 18-year-old said. “Soccer is literally all I do. If I am not playing soccer, I’m watching soccer, reading soccer, or watching a movie about it.”
And Papajani’s love for soccer has led to his relentless work ethic. In his first two seasons with the Dragons, the midfielder scored just seven goals, but as a junior he scored 23 goals and added 16 assists to finish second in BCL scoring.
The significant jump in production is a testament to Papajani’s work ethic, co-coaches Dan Hackett and Pat Mudie say.
“The soccer IQ was kind of always there, but his technical skill really improved,” Hackett said.
While Papajani’s play on the field was impressive and evolving, his growth as a leader is what stood out to his coaches and led to him being a two-year captain. They lauded his willingness to speak and be honest with them about the team.
“He’s a gamer, and he was a guy we could rely on to bring the best out of everyone and to lead the team,” Hackett said. “He also grew a lot more as an effective communicator, not only with his teammates but with us.”
Danny Ramirez, a right back and midfielder for the Dragons, remembers meeting Papajani in a science class in eighth grade. At the time, Ramirez was only playing club soccer, but Papajani pushed Ramirez to join the school team. They are now best friends and have been playing together ever since.
“He pushes everybody around him to be a better version of themselves,” Ramirez said. “Whenever I’ve had really bad days on the pitch or off the pitch, he’s always been there for me. He’s always had a positive impact on me.”
His leadership and work ethic fueled Papajani’s stellar senior season. The Marshall commit scored 18 goals with six assists in only nine matches, leading the BCL in scoring. One of his best games came on Senior Night in the Dragons’ final regular-season game against East Boston.
“We were struggling, and he put us on his back,” Hackett said. “He scored a 30-yard direct kick, then a corner kick, and scored a goal on the run of play. We just saw him go next level in that match.”
Papajani led the team to its first BCL tournament win and to the final, where the Dragons came up short against Burke. Papajani was named a BCL All-Star, Eastern Massachusetts Soccer Coaches Association All-Star, and was nominated for Massachusetts Gatorade Player of the Year.
As Papajani gets ready to head to West Virginia to begin the next step in his soccer journey at Marshall, he has big plans and high expectations for the future.
“I’m really happy but I’m not satisfied,” he said. “I want to make an impact for them and work to earn minutes. Hopefully I can help win national championships at Marshall and become a professional player someday.”