Published: Sunday, June 11, 2006
Willis rises above early problems
YOUNGSTOWN Kiki Willis of Youngstown experienced ups and downs during his freshman year at Elon (N.C.) University.
The ups were numerous for the 2005 Cardinal Mooney High graduate, who broke the Ohio high school career record for goals scored as a senior.
For example, Willis led Elon in scoring with 23 points on 10 goals and three assists, helped the team set a school record for most wins in one season with nine, and won a bundle of awards, including being named to the NCAA Division I Freshman All-American Team.
But the downs were bad, forced him to leave school for about one month and return home after completing his first semester and soccer season, and posed a difficult challenge to overcome. It proved to be a far tougher obstacle than trying to outwit a goalkeeper while attacking the goal with the ball.
However, with the help and support of his teammates and family, including his father, Willis was able to overcome his problems. He returned to Elon to finish the second semester and school year in good academic standing, and survive his first-year roller-coaster ride.
And now, home for the summer, working at Duferco Steel Mill in Farrell and running in his spare time, Willis is primed to resume his success this coming school year at Elon.
Left school temporarily
"I had to withdraw from school because I was having a lot of [problems] and I was unsure if I wanted to be there," recalled Willis. So, "I came home and stayed out a month. They are on semesters at Elon. I went back in January to start the second semester. I did a lot better the second semester with around a 2.1 grade-point average. I am eligible for soccer in the fall. I still will go back as a sophomore."
Willis, the son of Shirley and Ken Willis who is majoring in exercise science and sports medicine, blamed his early difficulties at Elon on "just a combination of things, the whole thing of being away from home at school. I did pretty well academically but I just wasn't sure if I wanted to be there."
Chris Rash, Elon's sports information director, explained Willis' situation and status.
"As for [Willis'] taking a month off, we have a Winter Term which is basically a three-week period in January that you take one class, meeting every day. It's not a mandatory session and [Willis] did complete everything in the fall and spring. Most people use that period to go on a study abroad trip, do internships or take a class on campus that they normally wouldn't be able to fit into their schedule."
Came home to regroup
In Willis' case, he used the time to come home and regroup and to decide if he really wanted to stay at Elon.
"Basically, my dad helped me to get myself back on track and to make good decisions." And, "Once I went back, I actually did a lot better. I concentrated more and did a lot better. Because I knew that I wouldn't have a second chance to come back to the school."
But, "I think my team helped me the most. They are my second family. They made me feel at home and that they care about me. It's that that makes me happy. I have a lot of support and encouragement and they make me want to feel part of the group."
Now, "I definitely feel a lot more confident. My self-esteem now is a lot higher."
Willis, who played forward and attacking midfielder, also led Elon to a 4-2-1 Southern Conference record for third place, and a 6-1-1 home record.
His winning formula
"I gained my self-confidence down there," said Willis, who said his faith and self-confidence sustained him. "What helps me to play well is all in prayer and belief in myself, that I can play well no matter whom I am playing against. That is the important thing, the driving force that helps you do the best you can."
He also said he had to learn how to manage his time better.
"My practices and school work were the hardest. It was hard to manage time around my school work. There was all the travel on the road. I had to learn how to adjust and study wherever I can," explained Willis, who scored five game-winning goals.
But now Willis is renewed for another fresh start as a sophomore, and the opportunity to enhance his reputation on the national scene. Hopefully, he will be able to actualize his true potential and eventually become a candidate for the U.S. team in the 2010 World Cup.