Monday, May 17, 2004
Ken 'Kiki' Willis is a junior at Cardinal Mooney High School.
By BILL SULLIVAN
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- Those folks who insist that Ken "Kiki" Willis could dribble a soccer ball before he could walk have it all wrong.
It wasn't until he was 6-years old that Willis first saw a soccer ball. Now, a decade later, he's the Valley's first-ever Parade Magazine All-American soccer player.
While he was playing with his club team, the Cleveland Internationals, at the Chicago Midwest Regional tournament last month, Willis was told by his father that Parade had just released its honor team.
Just a junior
"It was pretty overwhelming to achieve that Parade All-American selection," said Willis, a junior at Cardinal Mooney High School.
He's 5-foot-11, 170 pounds, with a 3.0 GPA.
While the Parade honor will raise many eyebrows, it's not the first All-American selection for Willis. He's been named to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America/Adidas All-American team twice (2002-03) and was selected to the EA Sports All-American squad in April.
"Every coach wishes he could coach at least one kid like this in his life," Mooney coach Lenny Krispinsky said.
"He's humble, talented, kids respect him and he doesn't try to do it all by himself," said Krispinsky. "Kiki is respected by his teammates, by the officials, by opposing coaches and players and by fans. He's a pleasure to coach."
Lots of hard work
The national honors are the result of plenty of hard work, good coaching and natural talent. Willis can quickly retrace his steps.
"When I first stepped on the soccer field, there was something about the game that I enjoyed so much," said Willis. "I didn't want to get off the field when I started playing. It's just something that caught my interest.
"I never knew about it until first grade. A couple of people came into my school [Immaculate Conception] for a demonstration and I said 'Whoa, I like that sport.' So I went and tried it out and ever since then I've been playing soccer."
Krispinsky initially noticed Willis playing in the Youngstown Parochial League in first grade. Already he stood out in the crowd. Or, rather, dribbled past the crowd.
"I was amazed to see what he could do on a field. I knew then he was going to be a special player," Krispinsky said.
Combining outstanding foot control and fine speed, Willis, 17, scored 50 goals for Mooney last fall. The Parade issue of May 23 will include Willis as a forward.
Only a severe injury prevented Willis from making the national under-15 team in 2001 and he freely speaks of someday playing on the U.S. national team and perhaps becoming a pro.
But for now, the immediate goals are simple. He played on the Mooney state championship team in 2002 and winning another crown as a senior is a possibility.
"Actually, I just go out and play the game to the best of my capabilities. I'm not expecting to win the player of the year or awards. I just want to try to help our team."
He's willing to sacrifice the 50-goal junior season for his team to advance deep in the state tournament.
"I'm not greedy or selfish. It's all about coming out and getting the victories. As long as the team does well, I don't have to do anything but score 10 goals this season. As long as we're winning, that's all that counts," he said.
With four All-American selections already and a full season still on the horizon, Willis could end his high school career as the most decorated Valley athlete ever, in any sport.