Soccer player Jon Okafor's '11 childhood dream became a reality when he was drafted 40th overall in the Major League Soccer SuperDraft by Chivas USA Jan. 13.
"I've always played soccer, and it has definitely been my biggest passion," Okafor said. "I can fully focus on playing now, and I'm pretty excited about that."
He is the eighth Brown player to be picked since the draft's inception in 2000.
In his four years of playing at Brown, Okafor has been an integral part of the midfield, netting a career 14 goals and providing 12 assists. His play guided Bruno to three NCAA Tournament appearances and helped the team reach the tournament's Sweet 16 last season. Okafor's unassisted goal in the opening round against Boston College helped spark the Bears' run deep into the tournament.
Despite being drafted by Chivas, Okafor is not guaranteed consistent playing time with the California club. Bothered by a recurring hamstring injury during the preseason, Okafor was told to return to Brown to finish his degree and rehabilitate. He will get a second chance to play with the team this summer after graduation. Though the injury is a setback, Okafor said he remains hopeful that his connection with the club will prove beneficial.
"Basically, the way it works in the MLS is once someone gets drafted, the team that drafts you has your rights for the first year," Okafor said. "At this point, it is kind of complicated with roster spots, so I'm just training, and if they call me back up in the summer, I'll go back out there and hopefully get a contract."
Men's soccer Head Coach Patrick Laughlin has high hopes for Okafor as his former player progresses to the next level. He said Okafor's athleticism and feel for the game make him already equipped for the big leagues.
"Jon has shown a great deal of ability each year," Laughlin said. "He possesses an extreme level of athleticism. And I think this year, he was able to bring it all together and really demonstrate on a consistent basis his talent and ability to beat defenders one-v-one , set up goals for others and score goals himself. He is just a really dangerous player."
The Brown senior remains open-minded about playing at the next level, whether it be at Chivas or elsewhere. If his trial with MLS does not work out, Okafor will look to join a United Soccer Leagues side or play in Europe. He said he appreciates the opportunity to finish his studies at Brown, even if it means delaying his entrance onto the Chivas squad.
"I would definitely like to play in the MLS, but I wouldn't say that MLS is my only goal at this point," Okafor said. "I just want to be a professional player at any level, because I feel I can work my way up. But at the same time, I'm really happy that I'm able to be here and finish out my degree."
While Okafor's future in professional soccer might not yet be certain, Laughlin noted that certain habits can help players find success at the next level.
"The biggest thing for a player as he moves on in the pro ranks is that you have to make sure you're physically and mentally prepared for the challenges and rigors that a physical environment has," Laughlin said. "And enjoy it, because it doesn't last forever."
"I'm in it, and I'm going to go for it," Okafor said. "And if it doesn't work out, I'm not going to look back on it and regret going for it."