Nov. 1, 2002
by Brian Betz, Assistant Sports Editor
The Santa Clara
For many collegiate athletes, making the commitment to pursue a particular sport comes after trying every activity that childhood has to offer. For freshman Kelechi Igwe, however, such a commitment started the day he was born.
"When I was two years old, my dad coached the women's team at Stanford," said Igwe. "From what I hear, I used to run around with a soccer ball whenever I'd go to his games."
Much of his drive to play and perform at the highest level comes from his bloodline. Igwe's father, Tony, played college soccer for University of San Francisco, where he helped the Dons win three national titles in his four years there. He also played for the Nigerian national squad.
"He, along with my mother, was a big reason why I got into soccer," said Igwe. "While my mom is a traditional 'soccer mom,' my dad has always been there to give me his advice. Not in a way that pressures me, but just in a way that I know his opinion is there if I ever need it."
True to his dad's legacy, Igwe has always had aspirations to stay in the Bay area. Offers to Cal, Saint Mary's, University of San Diego, New Mexico and Irvine could not pull him away from attending his first choice, Santa Clara.
"I have always been impressed with Cam's [Rast] coaching style," said Igwe. "Ever since freshman year I have wanted to come here, and it just so happened that the pieces came together that allowed me to do just that."
In his first year as a Bronco, Igwe has started almost every game and provided an offensive presence up front that is giving opposing West Coast Conference teams fits.
"One of his best attributes is that he is a big-sized kid who has the ability as well as the strength to maintain possession in the attack," said senior midfielder Scott McLain. "In terms of skill and natural ability he is one of the best freshman forwards in the country."
"He has good size, and a soft touch," added head coach Cameron Rast. "His athleticism allows him to be mobile, and his natural ability to be our lone striker up front is the reason why we see him maintaining that position for us in the long run."
One of the big keys in this long term plan is how well Igwe adjusts from playing center midfielder, which he played for his club team De Anza Triumph, to now being the sole striker for a high profile team.
"He is still adjusting to the college game," said Rast. "It's not easy to come in as a freshman and play right away, but it is something he has proven to have the ability to do."
Igwe solidified his starting role from the minute he set foot on the field. With three goals and two assists on the year, Igwe has proven that he has a definite knack for playing around the goal. But more than that, his ability to maintain possession in the attacking third of the field is one merit that doesn't show up in the box score.
"I never had to worry about using my body in club ball because I could control the game with skill," said Igwe. "Here I've found that when I go up against defenders who are 6 foot 4, I have to rely much more on my physical prowess to win headers and shield the ball."
In adapting to the college game, where the speed of play is much faster and the competition much stiffer, Igwe seeks to find a balance between his technical game and his physicality.
"Cam is always telling me to just make sure that I am doing my function," said Igwe. "I am always looking to get in there and make an impact by creating chances, but I know how to distinguish between the situations that require me to do that from those that warrant me to simply hold and distribute the ball."
In the 12 matches played this season, it is apparent that Igwe's confidence has risen since his first game at Santa Clara.
"At first he was a little hesitant," added McLain. "But it is obvious that he is more comfortable out there now. He plays as though he has been with the team for years."
Igwe recognizes that fulfilling his potential of becoming one of the nation's best will only come from hard work day in and day out. There is little question that he has the size and talent to become a perennial goal score leader in the WCC.
For the future, Igwe isn't setting his sights on a pro career just yet.
"If the opportunity to continue playing beyond college is there, I will pursue it," said Igwe. "But I want to make sure that I get my education first. And right now, that's my biggest priority."
And at the rate Igwe is going right now, odds are the opportunity will be there.