By Doug Gorman
The game of soccer has been very good to Clayton College and State University senior Nkiru Okosieme.
Her skill in the world's most popular sport has given the 31-year-old Nigerian native a chance to earn a college education by attending CCSU on an athletic scholarship.
But "NK", as she is called by her friends and teammates, is no ordinary college soccer player.
Not only is she 10 to 12 years older than many of her college teammates, she's good enough to play in the sports' biggest event?the Women's World Cup.
Okosieme is a four-time member of the Nigerian World Cup team, having just returned to the CCSU campus after playing in this year's event.
Wednesday afternoon, CCSU's world class soccer player presented school President Thomas K. Harden with a soccer ball autographed by the entire 2003 Nigerian World Cup team.
"It was a great experience," said Okosieme. "I'm thankful that I got this wonderful opportunity to play this wonderful game I dearly love."
Okosieme played in two of her team's three games during the 2003 event, including a 5-0 loss to the United States, where she played against marquee players such as Mia Hamm and Cindy Parlow She also participated in her team's 3-0 loss to Sweden.
In all, Okosieme played 154 minutes and had one shot on goal.
Totty O. Totty, her soccer coach at Clayton State, can personally share in her joy.
He too has World Cup experience as a member of the Nigerian men's World Cup team in 1990.
"This is a great honor for Nkiru and our program. She played at the highest possible level against the world's most talented players. What a wonderful achievement."
Okosieme has played in a total of 12 World Cup matches during her four trips to the sport's main event.
In 1999, she was her team's leading scorer with three goals, including one against the United States.
Because she's missed most of the 2003 college season, Totty plans on red shirting Okosieme, allowing her to return for her senior season in 2004.
Athletic director Mason Barfield is happy Okosieme had the chance to play in one of the sports world's major events.
"We are so excited that one of our students had this opportunity," he said. "There is no way we would ever deny one of our students this chance. I don't think some people realize how big of a deal this really is."
Since coming to Clayton State, she has been a scoring machine.
In 2001, her first year at CCSU, she was second in the nation in scoring with 33 goals. She also had four goals in a match against North Alabama, 72 points in a season and eight points in a match. All were school and Peach Belt Conference and records.
A year ago, she battled through injuries and still scored 14 goals as Clayton State finished third in the regular-season PBC standings and second in the conference tournament.
CCSU will be glad to get Okosieme back in the lineup next year, but in the meantime, she plans on concentrating on her studies.
Okosieme's 3.65 grade point average in information technology is the highest among student athletes at Clayton State.
Okosieme is the daughter of a soccer coach and began playing the game as a young child.
Okosieme also wants to coach some day.
"I think it's my responsibility to give back to this sport that's been so good to me," she said.