TAMPA, Fla. - On March 13, 2022, FC Motown STA forward Samuel Sarver hit the “post” button on his 10th-ever Instagram post. Most of his posts to that point contained around ten words, standard match photos from his time in Indiana University’s men’s soccer program. This post, though, contained more words than all others combined.
“To my friends, coaches and teammates at IU. All I can say is thank you.” The caption began. Sarver spent the next 411 words letting those that followed him as a soccer player get a look into who he is as a person. He detailed his struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts, about his teammate that held him when he did break down around others, and about how he knows he’s not the only student athlete to experience these feelings.
“I’m running off four hours of sleep, and it became really hard for me after training,” Sarver said in a May interview. “I would just take these huge naps, because my body would be so tired. I would just shut down. I missed a lot of class my first semester.”
Sarver didn’t tell any of his teammates he was going to post this – not even Nyk Sessock, who Sarver credits with making him feel heard without being judged.
“I would go to him with certain things and get his advice on that. It was fully my decision to just post that because I was seeing other things about mental health,” Sarver said. “I thought it’d be a good way to use my platform to let people know [that it’s okay].”
Less than a year earlier, Sarver made another long post, that didn’t quite get the attention of his later one. It showed a photo of him making a silly face next to a young man – his cousin, Dom, that had passed away in a motorcycle crash. The caption on the photo was another heartfelt one, but one that didn’t fully describe the pain Sarver had experienced. He says that’s when his mental health struggles began, but speaking about it and being around others is what helped him process the trauma.
“My biggest thing was I wanted to hand out with people who understood me,” Sarver said. “If it gets lonely, like, you know, at night, you just wish you could be with someone, so I would spend as much time with my friends and my teammates as I could. And then if I wasn’t with them at night, I’d play Xbox with my friends from back home.”
Training, he said, was his safe place, and where he felt he could put his worries to the side for a little while as he tried to improve his game.
After making the long post, he said he immediately got a rush of responses.
“I think the post kind of blew up a little bit because soccer is a very small world in terms of knowing people,” Sarver said. “So even after we played Syracuse, in the national championship, one of their players came up to me and talked to me about it, he was just like ‘I have a lot of respect for what you did, I saw your post.’”
Sarver still struggles to sleep sometimes, but opening up has lifted a weight off his chest. He says it’s still hard to grasp that he’s lost someone so close to him at such a young age, and that he finds himself stuck in his own thoughts from time to time.
Today, though, he is able to focus on playing his best at Indiana and for FC Motown.
“Other players know that people do talk about it. Maybe they’ll speak up, and help other people. It’s a domino effect.”
Throughout the season, the USL and its clubs will drive awareness of the 988 Lifeline to support people in our communities as they navigate their mental health at all stages of their lives.