Morrocco to Penn State by way of Belgium
Oct. 21, 2005
Simon Omekanda isn't your average future professional soccer player. The 21-year old junior was born in Morocco on the northern coast of Africa, and then moved to Belgium a few months later. His father, an electrical engineer, was transferred just a few months after Simon was born, to Mol, which is about an hour outside of Brussels.
The family stayed in Belgium until Simon was ten years old, and another transfer brought them to Michigan, where he attended Rochester Adams High School and was an All-American. During his senior year he was also named "Mr. Michigan" and the Gatorade Player of the Year.
Rochester Hills, Michigan is a seven-hour drive from central Pennsylvania, which is where Omekanda decided to attend Penn State - a decision his brother Paul had made a year earlier.
"Of all the schools I was looking at, Penn State was where I thought I would be able to excel the most, both at school and soccer," said Omekanda. "When I came here I saw the support system with academics, I got along well with the coaching staff, and my brother being here was a plus."
Simon is following in his father Avoki's footsteps as an electrical engineering major, which has kept him busy even during down time on away trips. "I was always good at math, and I like the sciences," said the forward. "It was really hard getting adjusted at first, but now I've pretty much gotten the hang of it. Like everything else it's all about managing your time well, even on away trips when you're feeling tired. You just have to get stuff done."
During Omekanda's freshman year, he was not only adjusting to the rigors of being an engineering major, but also to the pressure of starting every match for the Nittany Lions, who were coming off a Big Ten Championship season. He tallied an assist in his first collegiate game against then-No. 1 UCLA, was named the MVP of the Ohio State Classic, and named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team.
This year as a junior, Omekanda began the season with more career points than any other returning player. As an upperclassman, his role is slightly different this year than in seasons past. "I just have to be more of a leader now, and do the right thing on the field and off and be a good example for everyone," he said. "I'm helping the younger guys out a little bit, helping them adjust to the differences of college with soccer and the stuff off the field. I am showing them some of the things they have to look forward to."
One of Penn State's "younger guys," freshman forward Jason Yeisley, has combined with Omekanda for over half of the Nittany Lions total points this season. With two conference games remaining, they sit one win away from clinching the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Championship after beginning their season with an 0-4-1 record in non-conference play.
"We knew we needed to do well in the Big Ten in order to make the (NCAA) Tournament," said Omekanda. "We needed those losses to be cancelled out and not weigh in so much when they are deciding who goes to the tournament. If we get the number one seed, and only have to play two games instead of three in the Big Ten Championship, that always a plus."
He remembers what it was like last season, to open the NCAA Tournament with a bye and then get knocked out in penalty kicks in the second round. "We remember that feeling," he said. "We remember the feeling of getting into the tournament first of all, and then remember the feeling of losing. Both of those are going to be pluses for us this year in terms of motivation."
As an individual, Omekanda knows what he needs to do in order to assure that Penn State stays on the winning track. "I came here knowing that I was going to have to be someone who scores goals and assists," he said. "I think I'm going to have to keep doing what I'm doing and help the team put points on the board. I'm going to have to come out every game and play well, make a difference and be dangerous offensively, as well as do the work defensively for my teammates."
Upon graduation in 2007, Omekanda has dreams of going back to Europe and playing soccer at the professional level in Belgium, while other options might include playing domestically in Major League Soccer. "Either way, I'm definitely looking to play after college," he said.
But first things first. "These years go by fast," he said, "and I'm just trying to make the most out of this season."