He was born in Benin, which is in West Africa, and stayed there until the age of six when a missionary named Lynda Hollinger-Janzen decided she couldn’t go home to Goshen, Ind., without him.
For most of his life in West Africa, Femi had a bent-in left leg. Sometimes he would crawl places because it was faster than hobbling around.
That didn’t stop him from playing soccer in the streets with friends from his neighborhood.
By the time Femi moved to Goshen with Lynda and her husband, Rob, his leg problem had fixed itself.
“I’m not 100 percent sure what it was, I just know that I had a deformed left leg,” Femi said. “Over time it healed. It might have just been having weak bones as a little kid. Over time it just grew.”
Hank Willems had heard the rumors. There was a new sixth-grader at Bethany Christian ripe with technical ability. Some said he might be good enough to play on the middle school A team, a rare accomplishment for a sixth-grader.
“He was a very good player for a sixth-grader,” Willems said. “Not the physical abilities that he has now. But technically and tactically he was pretty advanced even as a sixth-grader.”
Willems coached Femi his sixth-grade season, but he then became the varsity coach for the high school team.
Once Femi started high school, he was playing on the varsity team. With the technical abilities that he possessed, it wasn’t a surprise. But he still lacked the size and athleticism he has today.
Between his sophomore and junior years, Femi grew from 5-foot-10 to 6-foot-1 and added 20 pounds.
Suddenly he was a different player.
“He went from being a good high school player to an impact player,” Willems said. “Physically, his game went to the next level.”
Femi was now a top player not only on his team, but in his conference.
Bethany Christian is a combination of a middle school and a high school. The high school portion of the school has only about 150 students.
It’s difficult for a school of that size to compete athletically. That’s why in Femi’s senior season, when Bethany Cristian went to the final four of the state tournament, it was a big deal. Femi was a large part of that run.
“He just willed our high school team to victory on several occasions,” Willems said. “When we made our run to the final four, he simply put the team on his back on some ?occasions.”
It was tradition. Every year Willems gathered all the players he thought had a shot at playing soccer collegiately. That year, Femi was among them.
Willems had the players write down three target schools, three reach schools and three dream schools. For Femi, IU was a dream school.
Willems had connections at IU. His college coach at Trine University had been a former ?assistant at IU.
Willems had worked at IU soccer camps and had built connections with both Jerry and Todd Yeagley. He knew IU would be a great fit for Femi — he just needed to get IU to notice him.
That opportunity came the summer before Femi’s senior year. It was IU soccer camp and one last opportunity to be ?noticed by the IU coaches.
Femi went to camp, won MVP and had IU Coach Todd Yeagley calling him the next day.
“We were pretty lucky,” Yeagley said. “Femis don’t drop on your camp field too often. It was a gift from the soccer gods that Femi shows up.”
As a high school junior, Femi was named MVP of the ? conference, was first team all-conference and was third team ?all-state.
But the talent level in ?Goshen is not at the same level as other parts of the state, meaning no one quite knew how good Femi ?actually was.
“Femi really didn’t know how good he was either until he got around good players,” Yeagley said. “He was in a bit of an igloo up there in Goshen and didn’t have much to compare himself to.”
Growing up in the state of Indiana since the age of six, Femi considered himself an IU fan. Add in the history and prestige of the soccer program, and IU was a dream school for him.
He still remembers the moment IU offered him a scholarship.
“It was an amazing feeling,” Femi said. “A little disbelief at first. I haven’t had a feeling like it in a while. It’s a dream college to play for, so when they called me up, I was all for it.”
Femi credits Willems with helping him get to IU. He also said Willems helped him grow not only as a soccer player, but as a young man.
“He was a great mentor to me,” Femi said. “He taught me everything about soccer as well as being a great person. I definitely would not be where I am right now without his leadership and coaching.”
Since arriving at IU, Femi has done nothing but excel. His freshman season he scored the game-winning goal in a 1-0 victory in the College Cup semifinals against Creighton.
Last season Femi was tied for the team lead in goals with five. This season he has started every game and is once again tied for the team lead in goals with five.
“It’s not bad playing with him,” IU senior Jamie Vollmer said jokingly. “The man’s really good and dangerous at all times. Having that on your team is really important, and he’s been great for us.”
Both Yeagley and Willems said they believe Femi still has room to grow as a player. Yeagley said Femi still hasn’t realized how athletic he is and how physical he can be. Yeagley called him too much of a “nice guy.”
“He wants to win but he doesn’t realize how big he can be and how physical he can be without being dirty,” Yeagley said. “That’s been fun to watch him realize that he can sort of manhandle some guys. He’s started to realize that more with every year.”
As for life after IU, Willems thinks Femi will end up working with kids in some capacity, whether it be through education or coaching. Willems said his son and daughter idolize Femi.
Still, Willems thinks Femi wants to continue playing soccer as long as possible.
“I think his first goal is to continue to play soccer as long as he can,” Willems said. “I think he has the ability, if he works at it, to play soccer beyond college. That would be another dream come true.”
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