Akim Suraji has a bright smile that he uses plenty and a gregarious side to his personality, but fitting into his new environment at DeKalb was difficult for a few months last year.
A few students were curious to learn more about the new student from Ghana after he moved in early in the 2012-13 school year, too late to join the soccer team, and he finally made a few friends, most of whom graduated or left school after the school year. But it wasn’t until the lightning-quick, technically gifted forward joined the soccer team this season that he really began to find his place at DeKalb.
“I was the new African kid [last year]. I got to talk to some people, but I don’t talk much,” the senior said. “I had seniors who were my friends. The friends that I have now are pretty much the soccer people. Now, I know a lot of people.”
On the DeKalb soccer team, Suraji found a place to fit in, and he gave the previously defensive-oriented Barbs the goal-scoring punch they needed to take the next step.
Suraji helped lead the Barbs to conference and regional championships by scoring 27 goals and dishing out 11 assists, and his vibrant play made him this year’s Daily Chronicle Player of the Year. Fellow DeKalb forward Dylan Hottsmith also was considered for the award.
“He immediately put his stamp on our team that he was going to be a player that we were going to be very successful with,” coach Brent McIntosh said. “We had a tremendous amount of confidence in the kids that were coming back that we were going to have a good season. What Akim helped us with was having that dynamic piece that really good teams have and I think can rely on.”
But in the same way his personality slowly came out over his time at DeKalb, his ability to completely change a soccer match took a few games to show itself.
Suraji performed well in preseason scrimmages and contributed to some early season wins, but McIntosh marks DeKalb’s 6-0 win over McHenry in early September as the day Suraji began to assert his dominance. In that win, Suraji scored on a blast from a distance and slotted home a goal from close range. His ability to work his way out of tight spaces and take on defenders one-on-one, along with his finishing ability, showed McIntosh that Suraji was a force to be reckoned with.
“He really did some things with the ball and off the ball that demonstrated a real high IQ, and a real strong grasp of the technical side of soccer,” McIntosh said. “The technical side of finishing is sometimes overlooked, and I thought he really showed that.”
Suraji became a speedy threat up top alongside Hottsmith, a senior who switched to soccer from football this year, to create a dynamic attack that opposing teams struggled to contain.
The Barbs were undefeated in Northern Illinois Big 12 East play, and they won the Class 3A DeKalb Regional championship over Huntley, which beat them in last year’s regional final.
Because he recently moved in from another country and doesn’t have all of the classes needed to attend a four-year school, McIntosh is seeking out community colleges that will help Suraji on his way to reaching the next level. But he doesn’t think Suraji will stop there.
“I believe that Akim has Division I talent and Division I IQ,” McIntosh said. “He has Division I written all over him.”
DeKalb’s season ended in heart-breaking fashion with a shootout loss to McHenry in a sectional semifinal. Although he was extremely disappointed, Suraji took the loss as one last lesson in a season full of new experiences.
“It wasn’t how we expected it to be,” Suraji said. “I think this was a season that we had a very good season, and we achieved something that we wanted. In the end, you have to learn something from it in the future and use it. That’ll be an inspiration.”
2013 DAILY CHRONICLE ALL-AREA BOYS SOCCER TEAM
Kaneland, senior, midfielder The skilled offensive midfielder led Kaneland with 11 goals and was named to the all-sectional and all-conference teams.
Hinckley-Big Rock, sophomore, midfielder Bullard is a player to watch going forward. The skilled sophomore finished with 11 goals and 11 assists, and could be a mainstay on this list in the next two years.
Genoa-Kingston, senior, midfielder One of the Cogs’ captains, Crozier scored 15 goals and had six assists for a team that made to the Class 1A state semifinals. Crozier was named the Cogs’ team MVP and was an all-conference and all-sectional selection during G-K’s most successful season ever.
DeKalb, junior, midfielder Freeland scored 19 goals and had four assists for the Barbs while playing up top and in the midfield. He most likely will be a favorite for player of the year next season.
Genoa-Kingston, senior, defender Hansen was the defensive leader on a team that improved in the back throughout the season. He was an All-Big Northern Conference selection.
DeKalb, senior, forward The Northern Illinois Big 12 East MVP scored 14 goals and dished out 11 assists for the Barbs. The former running back switched over from football this year after playing club soccer. His speed and skill up top next to Akim Suraji made DeKalb’s offense formidable.
Genoa-Kingston, senior, midfielder Ortega also was a captain on the most successful team in G-K history, and led the team with 14 assists and also scoring four goals. He was an all-sectional honorable mention selection and an all-conference selection.
Kaneland, senior, midfielder Parillo’s goal-scoring numbers were down this season, but that doesn’t mean he had an off year. The senior had four goals and 18 assists after dropping back into defensive midfield for the Knights. He was a two-time all-state selection and was mentioned on the preseason NSCAA-All American watch list.
Hinckley-Big Rock, senior, defender Sanders was a four-year starter on defense and was a sweeper during H-BR’s run to the Class 1A state semifinals last year. He also managed to score seven goals this year while he was H-BR’s last line of defense.
DeKalb, senior, forward Suraji was named Daily Chronicle Player of the Year after scoring 27 goals and recording 11 assists. The speedy, dynamic forward from Ghana was one of the reasons DeKalb improved from last season, sweeping through conference and winning a regional title.
DeKalb, senior, midfielder Woodford was possibly DeKalb County’s best returning player from last season. The skilled midfielder was the area’s top creator, dishing out 20 assists to go along with his seven goals.
Tommy Hansen, G-K, sophomore, midfielder Tim Sommerfeld, Indian Creek, junior, forward Juan Da Silva, G-K, senior, forward Logan Brown, DeKalb, senior, defender Eric Ngum, DeKalb, senior, midfielder Skyler Weishaar, DeKalb, senior, midfield Tyler Siebert, Kaneland, senior, midfielder Chris Van Dinther, Kaneland, senior, midfield Bobby Nay, G-K, senior, defender Brett Wachowiak, H-BR, Senior, defender Jake Bassett, Sycamore, junior, midfielder Gage Grant, Hiawatha, senior, midfielder Jeremy Potter, Indian Creek, senior, goalkeeper Jeremy Perales, H-BR, senior, midfielder