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w/ U-17 MNT Defender Ofori Sarkodie

For this section, we usually tend to explain why a player on one of our men’s or women’s youth national teams is considered a superstar, a player who you should watch out for in the coming years. Ofori Sarkodie is different. We don’t need to illustrate why the U-17 MNT captain is a considered a budding talent and has created a lot of buzz in MLS circles. You already knew he had the goods when you saw him play during the FIFA U-17 World Championship as his leadership, toughness, tenacity and composure are just the type of qualities that will help him succeed at the highest level in the U.S. What you might not know is the Ohio native decided just last week to forgo his pro aspirations and head to nearby Indiana University to suit up for the Hoosiers. So why did this unquestioned superstar not jump at the dollar signs and decide to live in a dorm? Read on.

By all accounts he’s ready. At least that’s what everyone’s told him.

Ofori Sarkodie, who captained the U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Team to a fifth place finish in the 2005 FIFA U-17 World Championship, listened intently as coaches, agents, friends, family and basically anyone who was in earshot told him he could make the jump to Major League Soccer.

His U-17 teammates, Quavas Kirk and Nikolas Besagno, made the jump to the professional level a year earlier and tried to convince him to join them, and his U-17 coach John Hackworth called him “the most prepared player from his age group in Residency to make the jump to MLS.”

Basically, anyone you asked said the Ohio native had the skill, confidence and level head to move on to the professional ranks.

So, why did this no doubt talented, well-prepared defender choose a life of Ramen noodles and late-night studying over a life of getting paid to play professional soccer?

“It’s really about what will make me happy and what’s the best decision at this point in my life,” said Sarkodie who announced his enrollment at Indiana University this December. “It has a lot to do with where you want to be, who you want to be and what you’re willing to sacrifice to get there. It came to me that the best option for me in my life was to go to college.”

But Ofori, what about fulfilling the dream of becoming a professional soccer player? What about getting paid to play a game you love?

“First, I want to develop as a person, develop people skills,” he confidently states without a moment’s hesitation that might otherwise make you think he wasn’t 100 percent sure he made the right choice. “Second, getting an education is one of the most vital things. Three, I wanted to grow physically and mentally as a soccer player before I headed to a professional environment.”

Sarkodie goes on to mention that he believes in college he’ll be able to not only get an education, but also develop physically, technically and tactically on the field from some of the best coaches in the college ranks.

While you can’t help but agree with him, the following question bubbles to the surface: can’t you develop better or maybe faster playing in the pros?

“It all has to do with a player’s attitude when he decides to make that jump,” said Sarkodie, who has trained with the Columbus Crew at times this past year when at home in Huber Heights, Ohio. “Instead of playing against kids your age, you’re playing against men. This is now your job, so every time you step out onto the field you’re going to work. I think some young professionals really aren’t prepared for that because I don’t think we’ve gone through enough experiences to handle that type of pressure. Some would benefit to go to college, but on the other hand some players are so mature beyond their years they will do extremely well.”

You get the sense that Sarkodie gets it. He’s not swayed by the “cha-ching” of the cash register that can inevitably goes off in a young teenagers’ mind when an MLS contract or endorsement deal is dangled in front of him.

But, that maturity to not jump at the money is the same reason why you’d think Sarkodie, more than anyone, would be ready to handle playing professionally at such a young age.

“At times, I have to agree with people that say I can play in the league because I feel so ready and so confident in my abilities, and I know how hard I want to work,” said Sarkodie. “But at times, I thought maybe I’m not ready for this. Let me go to a place where I can make mistakes and it will be OK, and I can learn from those mistakes and grow individually.”

Sarkodie almost makes it sound as if his decision was a simple one for him to make, but don’t be fooled. He says there were times when he was definitely going pro, and then a day or two later he was definitely going to college. The sway back and forth was getting too much, so he and his parents put it to paper, writing down the advantages and disadvantages of going pro or going to college, what his goals were, where he wanted to be in five years and what road he wanted to take to get there. After a bit more deliberation, he made his decision.

“I think the college experience is something people sometimes regret they passed up, so I’m happy I’m getting this chance,” said Sarkodie, who is thinking about going into pharmacy when he begins his college life on Jan. 9. “But as soon as it’s done and it’s time for me to move on to the next stage of my life, I’m going to be so excited and so ready to become a professional athlete.”

And how long will it take for him to move on to that next stage?

“I’ll wait and feel it out,” he said. “See how well I’m progressing. If I’m progressing further than I expected then maybe it will only be a year, but I could be there up to three or four years. Who knows? I’ll just take it step by step.”