Ada Okorogheye ’23 isn’t missing home just yet. One of the men’s soccer team’s six first-year recruits, Okorogheye is adjusting well to college life an ocean away from London.
Fortunately, he hasn’t had to look farther than a few lockers down for a surrogate family.
Playing against Bowdoin on Sept. 7, Okorogheye scored his first goal for Amherst in their opening match after an excellent through ball from a teammate left him with only the keeper to beat.
“I remember scoring and I’d like to think I’ve scored more important goals in my life, but I was overcome with so much emotion,” Okorogheye said.
“That moment showed how much the team already meant to me in a short space of time,” he added.
This goal, as well as a brace against Babson, may have singled Okorogheye out as the player to watch as the season unfolds.
The bonds he’s built so far with teammates and head coach Justin Serpone are all the more significant as he is one of only three international men’s soccer players (and the only player from the U.K.) on this season’s roster.
Despite these numbers, Okorogheye said that Amherst stood out to him and his family after a visit last December with Serpone – even compared to the Division I American schools he looked at, including Dartmouth, University of San Diego and the University of Pennsylvania, among others.
The clincher came down to the “personal touch” offered by both the college and the atmosphere of the men’s soccer team, carefully cultivated and consistently emphasized by Serpone.
“The best quote that I ever heard coaching-wise was: ‘Recruit players you’re willing to lose with,’” Serpone said.
“What you want is a bunch of people that have the emotional ability to give themselves and care about their teammates; we have that, and Ada’s another example of that,” Serpone added.
While Serpone was certainly impressed with Okorogheye’s skills on the field, what singled him out were his leadership skills, genuine nature and hardworking habits, he said.
Okorogheye is certainly poised for success at Amherst, but it’s not to say that the transition has all been smooth sailing.
Having come from a soccer-based academy where he spent 12 hours a day on the field and prepared to become a professional athlete, adjusting to a more academically-oriented institution has come with its challenges, particularly with time management, said Okorogheye.
Balancing his classes, which include economics, statistics and religion, with practices and games often leave him with 25-minute intervals to get out of class, get dressed and be ready to go on the soccer field.
Though this transition is certainly strenuous on any student-athlete, both Serpone and Okorogheye agreed that a higher international athlete population would benefit Amherst.
While Serpone emphasized the importance of diversity in team relationships interpersonally, Okorogheye suggested that more diversity could even lead to a better record, specifically for the “international” sport of soccer.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve been learning a lot about the American version of soccer, but I’ve also been able to let the boys know how things are done at home,” said Okorogheye. This fusion of tactics almost creates a different perspective to the sport that could be a big advantage to Amherst.”
Okorogheye used a soccer agency, Tom Nutter Soccer Scholarships, to connect with Amherst, but he emphasized the importance of the personal visit, as well as getting the Amherst name out overseas, to recruit more international players.
Serpone also conveyed a desire to bridge the gap between the rates of international students and international athletes at Amherst, but acknowledged the unpredictable nature of the recruitment process.
“The recruiting process is non-linear. We’d like to bring in an international student every year, but there are certain pieces of the admissions cycle that come into it, and it doesn’t always work easily.”
Complications aside, if Okorogheye is any example, Amherst has hope in courting talented, well-rounded community members from around the world.