Skilled world traveler
Tomiwa Ogunsola, a quiet American soccer star, has carved out a home away from his home in Prince William County.
By going to school in Florida, Ogunsola has been able to travel to France, Northern Ireland, Brazil, Costa Rica and Ireland. Earlier this month, on a visit to his family’s home in Dale City, the 17-year-old soccer star reflected on his whirlwind tour, which he hopes will take him even farther in the near future.
He’s a full-time resident on the 190-acre campus of IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., and takes classes at the nearby Edison Academic Center. Soccer is one of six sports at IMG, and the soccer program, which began in 1999 for Under-17 and Under-16 national players, has started to bear fruit. Three former IMG players were selected in January’s Major League Soccer Super Draft, and Ogunsola has his sights on joining that group after his college career at Clemson.
“I really like IMG, but in a way I wish I would’ve gotten to experience high school the same way other kids do,” said Ogunsola, who attended Hylton High School for the spring semester of 2001 but never played for the Bulldogs. “But the opportunity to pursue a dream — I decided to take that.
“My first semester in Florida, I came home three of four times. Since then, it’s been more like twice every five or six months.”
Ogunsola, whose 17th birthday is March 18, will complete three years of academic work into two calendar years, meaning he’ll graduate from Edison in June. As a junior/senior, he’s taking precalculus, physics, two English courses and three electives.
His schooling is fully funded by U.S. Soccer, which invited Ogunsola to IMG based on his play in the Olympic Development Program. He became a U.S. citizen five years ago while living in Alaska.
This fall, the 5-foot-7, 164-pound midfielder/forward will make the jump to Atlantic Coast Conference soccer one season ahead of schedule. “I just feel like I’m ready for that level of soccer,” Ogunsola said.
SHORT STINT AT HYLTON
Born in Leeds, England, to Nigerian parents, Ogunsola’s stay in Prince William was a brief one. His mother and father still live here, but he barely had time to make friends at Hylton.
He was at the school for the spring semester of 2001. However, he couldn’t play for the Bulldogs because he had trained and scrimmaged with his high school team in Morgantown, W.Va., during the summer. The Ogunsolas lived in West Virginia for 11/2 years, after residing in England, Nigeria, Canada and Fairbanks, Alaska.
Most of Ogunsola’s D.C.-area friends live in Maryland and have been teammates on his summer club team, the Potomac Cougars. He played full-time for the Cougars in ’01 (as the lone Virginian on the team) and commuted to some games in ’02. His coach, Jeff Rohrman, was an assistant at Maryland and will enter his second year as the head coach at Wisconsin this fall.
“Tomiwa’s a great player; he’s extremely athletic and very versatile as well,” Rohrman remembered this week. “For us, he played in an attacking role because he’s just so explosive.”
At the start of the fall 2001 season at IMG, though, Ogunsola was moved to the back. He has made his way to the midfield again as a reserve in coach John Ellinger’s lineup, and he was one of the last cuts for the elite 18-player travel team for CONCACAF qualifying in Guatemala (beginning March 5).
Ellinger “tried him at right back because Tomiwa can get up and down the field so well — and I think he had some players with maybe more savvy, more sophistication and more technical skill up top,” Rohrman said. “But the two years in Florida have probably been up on par with some of the other kids in technique.”
Rohrman didn’t recruit Ogunsola to Wisconsin, saying he realized his former club player who once lived in Alaska “is not really a cold-weather guy.” Several other soccer powerhouses did want to give the 17-year-old speedster a fill scholarship, but Clemson won out over Virginia, South Carolina, Connecticut, St. John’s and Alabama-Birmingham.
“Clemson’s a small college town, and it seems like I’ll fit in well with the team,” Ogunsola said. “It felt like a family, I got along with the coaches and I know I’ll be allowed to be my own person.”
With the Tigers, he’ll be one of coach Trevor Adair’s offensive threats. “He and the other two kids we signed from IMG will have to come in and earn their playing time,” Adair said. “But Tomiwa’s not a typical 16-year-old. He has a lot of strength and a lot of pace — two qualities needed to play college soccer.”
Tomiwa’s older brother currently attends Duke and his sister goes to Penn State. His mother’s president of her own company, an energy consultant called Temec. His father’s an engineer with the Department of Energy.
In such an accomplished family — and on a soccer team with several of the nation’s top 16-year-olds — Tomiwa has quietly made a name for himself.
“At Clemson, the team was close but it looks like if you need to be by yourself, that’s fine,” Ogunsola said. “I’m a shy person, not a talker.”
As an example of how Ogunsola lets others do the speaking, the answering machine on his cell phone is a rap that calls Tomiwa, “the Black Prince of Nigeria” — only he didn’t leave the message. The voice belongs to teammate Brain Grazier from Edwardsville, Ill.
“I really like to sleep,” Ogunsola said. “And I like watching movies. My favorite is a movie called ‘Sunset Park,’ about a basketball team from New York that has a woman coaching the team, and they turn things around.”
Last World Cup, Ogunsola was rooting for three teams — Nigeria, England and the United States. “I was hoping they’d all do well, but since I’m an American citizen and I play for the U.S. team, I was hoping for USA to do the best of all.”
While the 2002 World Cup team was gaining confidence with wins over Portugal and Mexico, Ogunsola’s also grew. He said he has a greater belief in everything he does, and the time in Florida has forced some of that maturation.
His mother, Bunmi, agreed, saying, “It is difficult, but I think he has adjusted. He has soccer players as friends and they are all in the same situation. We’re glad he’ll be closer to home for college, but at the same time we just wanted him to be happy.”
The Ogunsola File
Team: U.S. U-17 national team pool
Family: Mother, Bunmi; father, Yinka; sister, Ranti (21); brother, Yinka (20)
Favorite player: Denilson (Brazil).