Nigeria national team member Ottah excels early for Polk State Soccer
Unbeaten at 7-0 and nationally ranked in the United Soccer Coaches Poll, the newcomers have played a vital role for Polk State Soccer. Of these, perhaps no one’s story is more unique than that of midfielder Celine Ottah.
A member of the senior Nigeria national team since 2018, Ottah chose to pursue his college career and attend Polk State College.
“My coaches and teammates gave me a warm welcome…making me feel at home,” Ottah said. “Sometimes I don’t really miss home. They love me. My coaches have been amazing. They believed in me from the start.
Ottah’s presence on the pitch was felt immediately. In seven games, Ottah ranks second on the team in total points (18), goals (6) and assists (6). His assist total is good for 16th place nationwide.
“Céline is a dynamic player,” said head coach Jess Belli. “When she plays for a senior national team, she is more of a support player. Here we need her to be an outstanding player.
bigger than football
Recruited by Randy Belli, an assistant coach at Polk State, Ottah hopes to become a nurse. This opportunity is what ultimately prompted her to leave home.
“It was about going to school and getting a degree, so I could have a future outside of football,” she said. “I want to help people. I want to save lives, especially children and the elderly.
“When you have someone like Celine, who understands what an incredible opportunity it is to get an education, she’s so excited to bring that success of her education to her home and her family,” Belli said. . “It really changes everything for these international players. Polk State is really lucky to have him. We are thrilled to be a part of his career and his life.
Adapt to the United States
The Eagles hoped to have Ottah in time for the 2021 season, but the Nigerian Embassy still had strict COVID-19 restrictions. Because of this, Ottah was unable to obtain his student visa.
“It was so hard to wait another year,” she said. “I had to rearrange my plans.”
When Ottah finally arrived at Polk State this summer, it took time to adjust. Ottah admits she was a little homesick at first.
“The hardest part of adjusting to a new school and a new country was the food at first,” she recalls. “I missed Nigeria and Nigerian food. The atmosphere here and there is very different. I missed my family so much. »
At the start of the 2022 season, Ottah wasted no time in showing off his skills. The Eagles opened the year in Georgia with contests against South Georgia State College and then nationally ranked Motlow State College.
“At first it was tough,” Ottah said. “Over time we practiced and we continued to bond, I felt like we had become a team. Going to Georgia brought us a little bit closer. We had such a flow, a such a team spirit and such a desire to win.
Ottah recorded six shots, including two on goal, in a 3-0 early season win over South Georgia State. The following night, Ottah scored his first two goals in a 6-4 win over then-No. 20 Motlow State.
“The first goal was amazing,” Ottah said. “It cemented a lot of things and solidified my confidence. I felt like I could accomplish so much. »
Taking the Eagles to new heights
In his first two seasons under Belli, Polk State won more than 73% of his games. Playing in a region that includes defending national champion Eastern Florida State College, Ottah will play a vital role in helping the Eagles reach new heights.
“With Celine’s athleticism and technical ability with the ball, it really adds a special dynamic on the pitch,” Belli said. “She really challenges herself to develop aspects of her game that she hasn’t had to work on. We are extremely blessed with all that she already brings to the field and look forward to her developing even further.
In seven games this season, Polk State has been downright dominant. The Eagles outscored opponents by a 46-6 margin and recorded their third straight shutout in Wednesday’s 5-0 win over Florida National University. Ottah has either scored or assisted in six consecutive games.
“My biggest strength is that I’m skilled,” Ottah said. “I have a high football IQ. I can help my team both in attack and in defence. I want to score goals. I want to help my team to be better. As a team, we want to be national champions for the first time. It would be an honor to do that.”
The numbers so far speak for themselves, but Ottah said the team is a tight-knit group. This is an important ingredient as Polk State aims to win its region and enter the NJCAA tournament for the first time since 2009.
“My teammates are amazing,” she said. “They made me feel at home. We are a family now. I really liked everything about them.
Ottah also enjoys cooking and dancing. Football, however, is his greatest love. Ottah has been playing since she was little, but for her it means more than winning and losing.
“What I love about this game is that it brings everyone together, regardless of color, race, country,” she said. “We all speak one language and that’s football.”