Nigerian soccer players find new home at Skidmore
Adebare Oyeniyi ’17
Stranger in a strange land? Make friends. Never seen snow? Learn to snowboard. Skills
player on a physical team? Hit the weight room. Adebare Oyeniyi ’17 and Austin Okoye
’18 had never traveled outside Nigeria before coming to Skidmore, but they knew how
to plan, adapt, and succeed.
Both students are looking forward to the Liberty League Men's Soccer Championship, scheduled Saturday, Nov. 7, at St. Lawrence University.
Strong soccer players in childhood, they went to high school at an international sports academy in Nigeria. That’s where Oyeniyi met Skidmore’s Ron McEachen, one of several American coaches scouting players in the MTN Football Scholar program of accelerated classes, SAT prep, and soccer training. The two hit it off, and Oyeniyi turned down other college scouts in favor of Skidmore. After McEachen retired, new coach Jeremiah Kneeland visited Nigeria and forged his own good relationship with Oyeniyi, who says, “Skidmore gave me a good aid package, and Jeremiah was great, so I enrolled through the Opportunity Program.”
The trip was his first challenge. His family booked his flight to New York City without realizing that Saratoga Springs is in New York State. He arrived at JFK Airport with no idea how to find his way upstate. “I just asked everybody,” he says, “and finally I found a bus to Albany, and from there a bus to Saratoga.” Kneeland picked him up, he says, and “took me to the dining hall, then drove me to Walmart to buy what I needed to get settled on campus.”
Once Oyeniyi met other OP students and mentors, and his soccer teammates, he made a point of making friends quickly. In his first season as a Thoroughbred, he earned Liberty League honorable mention and helped the team into the league playoffs.
Austin Okoye ’18
The next year Kneeland recruited Okoye, who says, “I knew Bare was at Skidmore, and he told me it was great and the people were nice. I was considering another college, but Bare helped me decide to choose Skidmore.” In his first season Okoye led the league’s freshmen in goals scored and was a Rookie of the Week.
Still, culture shock hit them both. “I was surprised how late it stays light in the summer—and how early it gets dark in the winter,” Okoye says. “It took a few days to get used to the food. It’s not at all spicy compared to Nigerian food. Also, my English is more a British style, but here the kids speak an American style, and they speak much faster!”
Oyeniyi was nearly immobilized by the first cold weather. His solution: “I go to friends’ houses for holidays, and a friend from Vermont asked if I wanted to try snowboarding, so I did! It was pretty rough at first,” he laughs, “but now I love it. This winter I have a season pass to Gore Mountain ski area.”
Even soccer was different. “At home, it’s more about foot skills, with less contact and physicality,” Okoye explains. Oyeniyi says, “When I was young, I was a little guy, and I learned to shoot quickly and not hold the ball too long.” Like him, Okoye enjoys “learning some stronger style of play here. And my teammates are learning some skills from us too.” Bottom line: “This time last year, I was uncomfortable and trying to make all the social adjustments, but now I feel like this is home.”
Both have further plans: majoring in business, playing professional soccer, perhaps returning to Nigeria for entrepreneurial or public policy careers. Plus, for right now: racking up more goals and assists—quantifiable and “concrete contributions”—and earning more athletic honors. ~ By Sue Rosenberg