Purdue's Jessica Okoroafo overcame two major knee surgeries to be named Big Ten freshman of the year in women's soccer.
"I worked really hard to get back and it took a lot of time and patience," said Okoroafo, a Northview graduate. "I received a lot of support from my parents and family. It definitely was painful. My family kept telling me I could do it and that I could return back to normal."
Okoroafo helped lead the Boilermakers to the NCAA tournament, where Purdue lost to Wisconsin-Milwaukee in a shootout last night at Marquette University.
"It's exciting and unreal. It hasn't really sunk in yet," Okoroafo said. "I know we have to get ready for the NCAAs, but I'm very nervous about the tournament. We haven't done very well the last few games, so I hope we can play better."
Okoroafo contributed to a team that finished second in the Big Ten, despite getting beat in the Big Ten tournament by Wisconsin.
Okoroafo, who is majoring in management, started 18 of 19 games for the Boilermakers (11-7-1, 7-2-1), notching 10 goals, 2 assists, and 22 points. She also knocked in six game-winners and was named Big Ten player of the week twice.
Her accomplishments are anything but ordinary, considering what she went through in high school.
Okoroafo posted 18 goals as a freshman at Northview and 13 as a sophomore before tearing her anterior cruciate ligament.
Just when she was on the comeback trail, Okoroafo re-injured her ACL.
But she continued to work hard.
While at Northview, Okoroafo was first-team All-NLL four years, as well as a four-time all-district performer. She was four-time all-state, including three years on the first team.
"Watching her is nothing short of amazing," said Rick Burgin, Northview's girls soccer coach. "She made the players around her better and she is very competitive."
During Okoroafo's senior year, she was named to the All-American team, as she scored 15 goals and had nine assists.
"We've been keeping track of her, we went down to Columbus to see her play [against] Ohio State," Burgin said. "It's really exciting for her and I didn't expect anything less from her. She is just phenomenal."
"It shows our players that if you work hard enough, you can be where she [Jessica] is. Good things happen to good people and she is that. We use her as a role model."
Purdue's coach, Rob Klatte, said he recruited Okoroafo not only for her ability to score goals, but her intangibles, as well.
"One of the reason's we recruited her was because of her knee injury and her work ethic to come back and be great," Klatte said. "We had faith she would come back to her old form that she was in before her injury.
Okoroafo had offers from schools such as Michigan, Illinois, Cincinnati, and Duquesne, but instead opted for Purdue.
"I liked the girls here, I liked coach Klatte and it is very good academically," Okoroafo said.
Klatte added how much Okoroafo means to a young team that only has three seniors and five sophomores.
"She does one of the hardest things in soccer for us and that is put the ball in the back of the net," Klatte said of Okoroafo, who scored nine goals in Purdue's first 12 games. "She also has accepted her role on the team. She doesn't think she is bigger or better than the team and she has earned the respect of the team."
Today Okoroafo will arrive in Milwaukee and realize what it took to get to the NCAA tournament.
"It's going to be amazing just walking on the field," Okoroafo said. "I am going to look around and say, 'Here I am.'●"
Contact Adam Thompson at: