Forward Eduvie Ikoba ’19’s Journey to Dartmouth
As the clock crept towards 1 a.m. on a Wednesday night midway through spring term, a lone figure remained seated, leaned forward in his chair, captivated by his laptop computer. That figure was Eduvie Ikoba ’19, the freshman forward who helped Dartmouth clinch its second Ivy League title that sent them to the NCAA Tournament. On the screen, Major League Soccer forwards dribble through defenders, rocket shots past goaltenders and emulate the tiki-taka style made famous by FC Barcelona.
“That’s the goal right now,” Ikoba says, gesturing to the screen. “So I watch the highlights to see how they play.”
Whether or not he’ll realize that goal of playing professional soccer, his journey through the soccer world is already a remarkable story of passion, perseverance and success.
Ikoba’s relationship with soccer began in the town of Bettendorf, a small city of about 34,000 people. He began playing soccer recreationally at age four, but his family’s relationship with the game was what really drew him into the sport.
“Growing up with African parents, soccer was the big sport,” Ikoba said. “So it was fun to go out and play with family members and my parents.”
Ikoba’s father played soccer in Nigeria. It’s the country’s most popular sport, widely played within families in addition to school and recreational leagues.
“It was nice playing as a kid with my family,” Ikoba said. “When I was younger, I would go out and play with my dad in the afternoons or weekends. I have a large family, so we played small games with just our family members, which turned soccer into a family affair that looking back I think benefited all of us.”
Ikoba’s first taste of competitive soccer outside of recreational came at age seven, when he joined a travel team in Bettendorf and played a couple years above his age group. When he reached high school, he joined his school’s varsity team as a freshman. Playing with kids years older became something Ikoba would become accustomed to for the rest of his career. But before he could finish out his high school career in Iowa, his father found a new job that moved Ikoba and his family down south.
Alabama is a state where most families concern themselves with Friday night lights and American football instead of Saturday soccer tournaments. Bob Jones High School, Ikoba’s alma mater, is known for its strong sports programs. This past week, the Buffalo Bills of the National Football League selected Reggie Ragland, a Bob Jones alumnus and former star linebacker at the University of Alabama, with the 41st overall selection. But in a state known as a football pipeline, Ikoba nonetheless remained committed to pushing himself to be the best player on the soccer field and in the state.
“From my club team, most kids that signed went to local Division II or Division III schools,” Ikoba said. “I was the only one to sign to a Division I team from my high school. In the state, there are maybe one or two kids each year who play at competitive Division I schools, but it was something I wanted.”
Ikoba dominated at the high school level throughout high school. As a leader of his team, he netted 33 goals and 12 assists in his senior season. He helped lead his team to the Class 7A state semifinals and was a two-time All-Conference selection. His senior year successes earned him the Gatorade Alabama Boys Soccer Player of the Year Award.
To help get better technical training and recognition during high school, Ikoba also played with the Huntsville Futbol Club travel team, where he immediately emerged as a top talent.
“Even him playing up, he was the most dominant player on the team,” Huntsville Futbol Club director of goalkeeping James Ssemambo said. “He’s disciplined and wants to put in the extra work to make himself better. He believes in himself and he’s a fighter. He will give you everything he has, and if he comes off the field its because he cannot walk anymore.”
Playing with a team above his age group and against older competition, he helped lead his club to one of its best seasons in history. According to Ssemambo, in Ikoba’s first season with the team, he was one of the top scorers for the club’s top team, which went on to win the state championship.
The success from that season vaulted the team into a higher regional league, bringing more recognition to the program and drawing more attention from college coaches. With the nearest MLS Academy Team nearly 800 miles away in Houston, Huntsville Futbol Club and its success provided the much needed exposure for Ikoba to find his way to Division I scouts.
Huntsville Futbol Club, fueled by Ikoba and his teammates, earned a slot in the Disney Soccer Showcase. The annual tournament held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida is widely regarded as the top place for soccer talent to catch the eyes of college coaches. Ikoba excelled at the tournament and caught the eye of several scouts. While there, his father made a connection that helped establish Ikoba’s first real interaction with a college coach.
“I went to a tournament in Florida, and there was a coach who was Nigerian as well,” Ikoba said. “My dad went and talked to him, and it turned out he was a coach at Boston University and coached a top travel team in Boston.”
Ikoba was able to join that Boston travel team at another showcase in Florida, where he averaged just about a goal a game in front of a host of colleges programs, including Dartmouth. After one visit, Ikoba could tell it was the right fit academically and athletically, even with other schools calling.
Ikoba received interest from several colleges. Boston University wanted him to come after he played with a coach from its team. Colgate University offered him a scholarship, and he also talked with the University of Indiana, Duke University and the University of Alabama at Birmingham further down the road.
“It was Dartmouth that attracted me the most because the coaches seemed very nice and that they really cared about me,” Ikoba said. “Academically we are obviously very well ranked, and the coaches had a clear goal of becoming a top program nationally.”
Hanover, New Hampshire
Ikoba’s soccer path has now landed him in Hanover, where he has had a strong start to his collegiate career on the field. He started 14 of the teams 19 games and netted four goals and three assists while helping Dartmouth to its second Ivy League title. Now, he’s focused on improving before next fall, all with an eye on a future in the MLS. His role model? Fanendo Adi, a Nigerian born striker for the Portland Timbers with an aggressive style Ikoba tries to emulate. Despite a long and winding path, Ikoba has gone from success to success, and we shouldn’t expect his future to be any less bright.