From collegiate to professional; The untold stories of Unilorin football stars
Unilorin is not merely producing graduates signing professional contracts; it’s establishing itself as a recognized force in Nigerian football.
●9th December 2023
In recent times, collegiate football has been on a downward trend due to less or non-interest from the authorities involved. Gone are the days when Nigeria shone across Africa, parading budding talents from higher institutions.
Obviously, “Mathematical” Segun Odegbami comes to mind as “oldies” when the mercurial striker- a Polytechnic of Ibadan Engineering student, got signed into IICC Shooting Stars. More so, you wouldn’t forget Olamide Agoye, who was a student at the University of Ibadan and played for Shooting Stars in the early 2000s.
Despite the absence of spark in several tertiary institutions’ sports in Nigeria, Unilorin has been showing class in recent times.
“Better by Far” as it is fondly called, has proved that a citadel of learning can once again produce quality stars for the nation’s delight.
Unilorin last year defeated hosts Unilag Marines on their way to clinch the prestigious NUGA gold in March 2022, and they finished fourth during the Higher Football League (HIFL) months later.
Its football program has helped players who have just graduated, like Ighor Godwin and Ajao Sodiq, who signed professional contracts with clubs in Africa, and its undergrads are now soaring into the Nigerian professional league system.
Emmanuel Obagbemiro’s Remarkable Journey
Emmanuel Obagbemiro, a Human Kinetics Education student, exemplifies the rising talent nurtured by Unilorin. Joining the Unilorin Warriors in 2019 as a 100L student, he transformed his game under the guidance of Coach Isiaqa Gambari, a seasoned professional who previously worked with Kwara United.
“I started playing 11-aside football late,” Obagbemiro admits, “but joining the Unilorin Warriors in 2019 as a 100L student transformed my game.”
The Unilorite debuted for the Unilorin Warriors in a friendly against Za’aj FC and has gone on to play in the Higher Institution Football League, NUGA Games, and other competitions within Kwara State.
He credits coach Isiaqa Gambari, who previously worked for Kwara United, for taking him “in as a child” and shaping his footballing journey.
Obagbemiro, now a footballer at Kwara United, acknowledges Coach Gambari’s undeniable impact on his footballing journey.
“Coach Gambari took me in as a child,” says Obagbemiro. “His impact is undeniable.”
Adams Josiah’s Breakthrough with ABS FC
This philosophy is proving infectious. Adams Josiah, the Warriors’ vice-captain and a goalkeeper with reflexes that defy gravity, just signed with ABS FC, a second-tier powerhouse. Reflecting on his development, he emphasizes the crucial role that school football played in shaping his skills. Josiah credits Coach Gambari’s mentality and game plan during events like HIFL and NUGA for his growth.
“Coach Gambari’s mentality and game plan during HIFL and NUGA helped me,” Josiah says. “School football played a huge role in my development. I owe it a lot.”
Josiah, who made his debut for the Warriors in 2019 (in a friendly against Kinshood FC), expresses excitement about joining ABS FC, viewing it as a significant breakthrough in his career. “It’s a breakthrough for me,” he beams. “I’ll give it my all, make a name for myself, and hopefully even brighter things await.”
Meanwhile, all these successes wouldn’t be without the managerial structure imposed by Coach Gambari on the football team.
Coach Gambari’s Winning Mentality
At the core of Unilorin’s football success is Coach Isiaqa Gambari, a figure with experience in the professional game. His dedication and winning mentality have shaped the Warriors into a formidable force.
“We push our players to be the best they can be, on and off the field,” says Coach Gambari. The university’s supportive infrastructure and commitment to discipline, hard work, and a never-give-up attitude are attracting talented players from across Nigeria.
Unilorin is not merely producing graduates signing professional contracts; it’s establishing itself as a recognized force in Nigerian football, dedicated to developing well-rounded, disciplined players ready to compete at the highest level. The university’s football program is becoming a cornerstone in the evolution of Nigerian football talent, a story worth celebrating on the international stage.
Notable Mention: Rashidat Salau’s Ascent in Women’s Football
Fresh Unilorin graduate, Rashidat Salau has also made her mark, signing with Èkìtì Queens in the Nigeria Women’s Football League. Her success reflects a growing trend within the university, where student-athletes are excelling both academically and on the field. Unilorin is creating an environment that prepares these athletes for professional careers without compromising their education.
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