The Mooney standout liked the feel of the North Carolina campus.
YOUNGSTOWN -- One of the most decorated prep soccer players in Ohio history has decided to let professional soccer wait and play collegiately at Elon (N.C.) University.
Kiki Willis, a three-time National Soccer Coaches Association of America/adidas All-American and Ohio's Mr. Soccer in 2004 from Cardinal Mooney High School, signed with the Phoenix on Wednesday. He said he liked the small school, family atmosphere the Southern Conference school in the Carolina mountains provides.
"I felt really comfortable with everything about the school from the minute I walked on the campus," Willis said. "There were some big-time programs that were interested and there was some talk about the possibility of playing professionally now, but that wasn't for me.
"I want to get an education first and be in a place where everyone, athletes and non-athletes, make you feel welcome and part of something special."
Mooney soccer coach Len Krispinsky said that rival coaches wouldn't be sad to see Willis go.
He scored a state-record 176 goals in his career, added 55 assists, and led the team to the state title game twice. Mooney won the Division II state championship in 2002 and finished second in 2004, with Willis leading the way. Mooney finished nationally ranked in two of Willis' four years there.
"I talked with some of the people I know with the Columbus Crew and they told me, 'Lenny, have him get his college education,' " Krispinsky said. "Soccer is great, but the money in the MLS isn't what you would think. He needs to have that foundation behind him.'
"The Freddy Adu deals, they are the exception, not the norm. Kiki has played against Freddy, and he was wise enough to know that Freddy is on a different level and Kiki's not ready for that just yet. College is the best thing for him right now, and he loved what Elon had to offer."
Willis is ready to put Elon on the soccer map. First year coach Darren Powell takes over a program that went 4-11-5 last year.
"We are very excited to have a player the caliber of Kiki in our program," Powell said.
"I think we have the ability to be one of the emerging programs in the South, and he's going to be a very key part of it all."
Willis has a list of accomplishments that would fill a multi-page resume.
He was a Parade All-American, an E.A. Sports All-American in 2004, the Steel Valley Conference player of the year four times and was all-district four times.
"I'm ready to take the next step," Willis said.
"I feel like not just soccer, but everything was just a perfect fit for me. I can't wait."