Five years ago, living a half a world away from Thornton, Emmanuel Barjebo never could have imagined the heights he’d take the Wildcats to his senior season.
Barjebo’s parents fled Liberia and relocated to a refugee camp in the Ivory Coast when Emmanuel was less than a year old. There he stayed until he was 13 and his family was selected to move the United States as part of a United Nations program, an occurrence Barjebo compared with winning the lottery.
His teammates and coaches on the Thornton Co-op soccer team have to feel like they hit the jackpot as well.
With Barjebo leading the way, the Wildcats finished 19-4 and advanced to the championship of the Class 3A Andrew Sectional before falling in overtime to Sandburg.
Barjebo scored 22 goals, dished out 19 assists and nearly was impossible to contain with his blazing speed and finishing ability.
All that has earned him the title of SouthtownStar 2013 Boys Soccer Player of the Year.
“It’s a great honor,” Barjebo said. “I’m glad I got an opportunity to show who I am and what kind of player I am. This year was special for us, and it meant a lot to those who supported us the whole way. We know this’ll motivate players who come after us to continue the run and be better than us.”
Barjebo was at his best in Thornton’s biggest matches.
With the SouthWest Suburban Red championship on the line, he recorded a hat trick to beat Lincoln-Way East.
He scored in a regional final win over T.F. United and had a goal and an assist in a sectional semifinal victory over Marist.
“In terms of the team, he was basically 90 percent of our offense,” Thornton coach David Gonzalez said. “He’s so small, but he played so big. If it’s him against one defender or even against two, we just kind of let him play. His speed is so unbelievable.”
Barjebo was honored as an All-State forward, but it’s team success he wants to focus on.
“People didn’t use to know who we are,” he said. “We showed people that even though we live out here, we have confidence. We can make a difference. We can make people proud in our neighborhood. We didn’t use to have the support in the school for soccer. Now people are proud of us.
“When I reflect on where I was a few years ago to where I am now, there’s big changes. Everything’s opposite now.”
Barjebo has gotten interest from collegiate programs, but needs to improve his grades and ACT score. He said education has been his biggest challenge since coming to the country.
“I really want to get into a good college,” he said. “I’m still trying to become a better person and help my family. After all the struggles we’ve been through, I want everyone to be proud of me.”