Pictured: Senior Andre Akpan leads the eighth-ranked Crimson
in scoring this season with six goals and four assists for 16
Photo courtesy: DSPics.com.
Story courtesy of Nicole Yurchak.
Texas native Andre Akpan has enjoyed a great deal of success on the soccer field since his youth. He picked up his first soccer ball at an early age and has been consistently improving his game ever since. Akpan’s résumé recites a long list of accolades and awards in recognition of his success on the field. From being named Ivy League Rookie of the Year to being honored as a semifinalist the last two years for the Hermann Trophy, given to the nation’s top collegiate player, Akpan is making a name for himself in the soccer arena. This year, Akpan, an economics concentrator, will take the field for his final season at Harvard before he attempts to pursue a career as a professional soccer player.
Akpan's road to success started with his family and their love of the game. Akpan’s soccer experience began with his father who first introduced his young son to the sport around the age of four. From that first experience, he inherited his father’s love of the sport. Akpan recalls, “My dad was always a big soccer fan. He’s from Nigeria where it’s a much bigger sport. He taught me when I was young and it just clicked. “ Akpan’s father was not the only positive influence on his soccer game, as his brother also helped him get better at the game. “ It was always the three of us playing (my dad, my brother and I). So it was always good to learn with older players. It’s probably helped me become the player I am now.” Akpan’s brother, Adrian, went on to play at Bowling Green.
When he wasn’t practicing with his family, the youngest Akpan was always busy using what he learned from his father and brother to give himself an edge on the field. That desire to be the best earned Akpan the attention of Harvard. “I got recruited just like any other school. To be honest, I never dreamed that I would ever be able to go to Harvard. I received a recruiting letter and I did well in high school,” said Akpan. “The coaches wanted to see what I could do with different teams and I performed pretty well. I came out for a visit and I really liked being here. I couldn’t pass up a chance to go to Harvard.”
Upon arriving in Cambridge, Akpan quickly realized that he would be playing at a much different level than he was used to back in Texas. “We had a pretty solid club team when I came in and a lot of us were pretty highly touted recruits. There was a lot expected of us coming into college.” Despite the fierce competition Akpan faced during that time, he was still named to the list of “Top 100 Freshman to Keep an Eye On” by College Soccer News before he even stepped on the field.
Akpan proved that publication to be correct on his skill, as after the season was complete, he was tabbed Ivy Rookie of the Year. “I had goals coming in, expectations of my own---winning that award and making it to the NCAA tournament were a few of my goals,” says Akpan of his freshman year. Akpan made other goals for himself at Harvard, including making the NCAA Championship every year, which the team has successfully done during his first three seasons.
Akpan admits that it is his main goal now is to win the Ivy League title again. The team captured the crown in 2006 when Akpan was a freshman but he does not believe that he appreciated it enough at the time. “It was really exciting. We had a really good group of seniors who had never won it so it was really rewarding for them as well,” says Akpan. “I just kind of took it in stride because I was a freshman and we won it right away. I don’t believe I appreciated it as much I think I should have. Hopefully, we can replicate that again this year.”
Aside from winning the conference crown, Akpan has achieved much success throughout his Harvard career. Akpan, one of the most honored players in program history, was dubbed one half of the “Most Exciting Combination” in college soccer, along with Michael Fucito ’09, by College Soccer News last year and the awards and accolades just keep rolling in. Still, Akpan says that despite all of these significant achievements, he would “much rather have the team win the Ivy League and make the tournament than earn any of the individual awards.”
Akpan has been named captain by his teammates for the upcoming season, an honor and responsibility, which he takes very seriously. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to lead by example,” says Akpan of his ability to be captain. “I want to make sure that I can help set the tone for my teammates. A lot of it will depend on work grade and effectiveness on the field. I want get the new freshmen prepared and help their transition from high school to college and make sure we have a unified team.” Moreover, despite losing four starting players from last year to graduation, Akpan believes that the Crimson will remain a contender. He believes that the team’s focus will be to make the tournament for the fourth straight season and be able to maintain what they have done in recent years.
In the meantime, Akpan is not spending his summer keeping his skills sharp by playing with the Chicago Fire Professional Development team. He has been competing with and against other college players like himself who have dreams of pursuing professional careers. “I’ve been getting in a few training sessions with the first team of the Chicago Fire,” Akpan said. “It’s been a great experience. I’ve met a new group of friends and have been enjoying good soccer training in preparation for my final collegiate season.”
Akpan is aspiring that this experience will pay off in the long term after graduation, as he hopes the skills he has picked up will eventually get him invited to the Major League Soccer (MLS) Combine where he will get to play in front of coaches around the league. The other option open to him is to go to Europe and attempt to gain a contract with one of the professional teams there, a challenging task in itself. However, Akpan remains optimistic about his chances of being drafted into the MLS. “I want to make sure we do well as a team at Harvard and hopefully everything else works out as well.”
As for free time between now and graduation, Akpan admits he has very little of it. He has been dedicated to his intense training to improve his chances at a professional career, and for the immediate future, Akpan has concentrated on his upcoming final season with the Crimson and graduating from Harvard. “We have a great group of players and I think we can have another successful year,” predicts Akpan.