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Future Focus: Lower Merion’s best Tolani Ibikunle

Posted on 21 February 2010 by Breton Bonnette

We started our Future Focus feature with a South Jersey star in Alec Golini and this week we want to head across the bridge to Lower Merion (stomping grounds of Kobe Bryant) to meet St. Joseph Prep’s Tolani Ibikunle.  We had to be pretty brief because Tolani is now in the Rainbow Nation with his club team, Lower Merion Velez. Tolani might not have an All-American award to his name but his presence is certainly known in the Philadelphia metro area. The 17-year old midfielder lit up the high school scene enough that Jay Vidovich and Wake Forest came calling making him part of one of the best recruiting classes of 2010. Playing for the Demon Deacons has been a dream for Tolani since arriving in Lower Merion and though there were ups and downs and undoubtedly some naysayers, he will enter one of the best NCAA soccer programs of the past decade in August.

If you want video proof of Tolani’s skills – check out any of these videos and look for #12. Go here and click on the Disney College Showcase and the first game vs. Beachside. Head to the 6:40 mark and 8:40 mark for a good look at his strengths. Most importantly, keep an eye out for Tolani as he takes that big next step.

Your family has moved around over the years, how has that affected your soccer development?

I’m originally from Montclair, New Jersey and I used to play for the Montclair Blast. When I moved to Lower Merion however, my soccer career really took off. It started when my best friend Jonny brought me to one of his Lower Merion Velez practices. Ever since that day, the level of my game has increased drastically. Various soccer coaches in the Philadelphia area have helped me over the years. My ODP coaches Mike Gorni and Mr. Krantz, my Lower Merion Velez coach Miguel Nuila, my Saint Joseph’s Prep coaches Mr. Murray, Mike Fanning, Coach Blaire, and Mr. Mendez.

Have you been keeping track of the Philadelphia Union?

I have not been keeping close track of the Philadelphia Union, but I look forward to following them when their first season begins.

You are heading off to Wake Forest in the fall, have you spoken much with Coach Vidovich?

I have talked to Coach Vidovich a good amount, and I cannot wait to get down to Wake Forest to play for him.

What does it mean to you to be playing for arguably the best program of the last decade or so?

It is an honor and an accomplishment to be playing for Wake Forest. I saw them playing my freshman year and told my teammates that that’s where I would be playing. Not very many people believed in me but it’s where I’m headed next year so I’m very proud. I am very excited to get to North Carolina and play for them.

What’s it going to take for you to make an impression at Wake Forest? Did you talk to any of the guys currently playing there before making your decision?

It’s going to take a lot of hard work and dedication to make a good impression at Wake Forest. It is going to take a good deal of mental and physical preparation. I talked a bit to older players such as Daniel Wenzel, Ike Opara, and Corbin Bone, before making my decision.

What other schools were after you? What were your reasons for turning them down?

Georgetown, Virginia Tech, UPenn, Brown, and Boston University were all looking for me. I turned them down to play for my dream school, Wake Forest.

Any aspirations to suit up for the Union some day? Or being from Montclair, NJ, do your loyalties lie with the Red Bulls?

It would be great for play for the Philadelphia Union or the New York Red Bulls but ultimately I would love to go professional overseas.

What would
you say your strengths are as a player? And your weaknesses?

My strengths are my speed, my first touch, and my driven balls. My weaknesses include my overall fitness and keeping my composure.

You’ve been busy between St. Joseph’s Prep and Lower Merion Velez, what has been your favorite moment so far?

My favorite moment was making it to Nationals for the second time in a row with the Lower Merion Velez. My favorite moment on the Prep team was my first goal on varsity sophomore year.

What’s your favorite thing about the game of soccer?

My favorite thing about soccer is having fun.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

In five years, I see myself playing pro in Europe somewhere.

Quick Kicks

You have a 3 vs. 3 match-up coming up, which two professional players would you pick as your teammates? Why?

I would play with Didier Drogba and Kaka. Didier Drogba is one of my favorite players and Kaka is one of the most amazing players I’ve ever seen play.

The best defender in the world right now (i.e. defender you would least like to go up against?)?

I would have to say that the best defender in the world right now is Carlos Puyol.

Being of Nigerian descent, who is the best Nigerian player at this moment?

Peter Osaze Odemwingie

ASN Philly Note: Odemwingie made his name with Lille of Ligue One and now plays striker for Lokomotiv Moscow of the Russian Premier Division. He played a big part as Nigeria’s only overage player at their silver medal showing at the  2008 Beijing Olympics. Interestingly enough, Odemwingie was actually born in Uzbekistan (then part of the Soviet Union) and opted to play for Nigeria over Russia.

Favorite club team?

Chelsea

Which league suits your style of play right now? Ultimately, would you rather play here or abroad?

I would ultimately rather play abroad, in the La Liga.

Best advice you have ever been given?

The best advice I have ever been given is to have fun.

Thanks for taking the time Tolani and enjoy South Africa! We will add you to our list of future prospects to watch out for and check in later.

If you like the Future Focus feature, check out our first installment with Rancocas Valley’s Alec Golini.

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