Return from injury next step in journey for soccer's Nortey
By Chris Jenkins
Although no student-athlete wants to sit out a season, men's soccer player C. Nortey might be better wired to handle adversity because of the unique journey that brought him to Marquette.
When you've sold tomatoes and sports drinks by the roadside in Ghana to help your family make ends meet, and earned your ticket to the U.S. by refusing to take no for an answer as an 11-year-old, losing a year to two knee surgeries simply serves as motivation.
"When you live in Ghana, you grow up really quickly, because you have to think a lot when you're little," says Nortey, a redshirt sophomore. "That makes you really mature, and that's how I felt. I'm really mature today because of the things I went through when I was little."
Nortey's return after missing the 2012-13 season because of surgery on both knees is a major part of what could be a big season for the Golden Eagles.
After a short exhibition season that included a 3-3 tie against reigning NCAA national champion Indiana, men's soccer was ranked No. 10 in the Soccer America preseason poll. Marquette's women's soccer team was ranked No. 25 going into the season.
Men's soccer coach Louis Bennett is downplaying external expectations for his team, but isn't shy when describing Nortey's ability.
"He's one of the best players in the country," Bennett says. "And this is the thing: He's one of the hardest people to play against. I mean, he's a five-foot-seven fireball, you know? His work ethic, his determination, his focus, is extremely strong."
Determination? Nortey showed that as an 11-year-old when he was selected to attend the Right to Dream Academy, an organization in Ghana that provides education and training for promising young soccer players.
Except he wasn't exactly "selected."
Nortey tried out but wasn't picked. A few of his friends were, though — and he decided to tag along. As it turned out, the academy needed an extra goalkeeper, the position Nortey was playing at the time. He talked them in to letting him stay.
"I helped in the kitchen, I helped serve the food, I helped with everything I could," Nortey says. "And eventually, they realized I could be useful — and then I started playing really well."
Kids who played well there were put on track to professional careers; those who played well and showed academic promise, such as Nortey, were put on track to attend high school in the U.S. So at age 15, Nortey got on an airplane for the first time, destined for the Hotchkiss School, a boarding school in Connecticut.
Despite struggling with the language barrier, he befriended a fellow student in his dorm who invited him home to visit his family in the Chicago area over Thanksgiving break — and, eventually, other holidays.
Over time, Nortey came to think of Dan and Gina Dickinson, and their children, as a second family. They even hung a Christmas stocking with his name on it.
"What is the movie called, The Blind Side?," Nortey says. "I watched the movie and I was like, 'This is like me!'"
When it came time to choose a college, Nortey felt most comfortable at Marquette. Today, Bennett says Nortey's unique life experience is even more valuable to the program than his considerable talent.
"Marquette's all about giving the best of experiences to everyone, and looking for that leadership and that community and that whole faith, just believing in things bigger than yourself," Bennett says. "And he exemplifies that, without even knowing. It's just his life, you know?"