COLUMBIA — Taiwo Adeshigbin is hungry.
She’s heading to Georgia, her home state, with the rest of the Missouri women's soccer team to play in front of her closest friends and relatives Friday, but all she can think about is a special delivery from her family’s Lawrenceville, Ga., kitchen.
No. 9 Missouri (9-1, 4-0 SEC) at Georgia (5-5-1, 1-2-1)
WHEN: 6 p.m. CT
WHERE: Turner Soccer Complex, Athens, Ga.
“I’m going to have my brother bring some Nigerian food for me,” Adeshigbin said. “I think I’m more excited for the food than seeing anyone.”
The game against Georgia will be a special homecoming for the Tigers’ senior striker. She has been through a lot since her family was last able to watch her play.
After transferring from Georgia Perimeter College to Missouri for her junior year in 2011, she suffered a concussion in her first game as a Tiger, derailing her season.
A bad start in a new environment threatened to end a career that had come a long way since childhood, when Lanre Adeshigbin taught his daughter and her twin brother Kenny Adeshigbin how to play the game he loved so much.
Young Taiwo Adeshigbin — the name means “first-born of twins” — developed her own passion for the game and began to seek out new challenges.
From age 8 to 14, she played with her brother in a boys league in Texas before excelling at Central Gwinnett High School in Lawrenceville.
Division I programs were hesitant to offer scholarship money, so she took a spot on the squad at Georgia Perimeter, a junior college. During Taiwo Adeshigbin's sophomore season, she scored 32 goals and led her team to the semifinals of the NJCAA tournament. It was enough to get Missouri's attention.
Unfortunately, things were rough from the start in Columbia, where she sat on the bench, injured and unable to aid her new teammates.
Taiwo Adeshigbin did not panic, however. She turned to two things she had always counted on: hard work and prayer.
“Before she does anything, she talks to God,” Alaba Adeshigbin, Taiwo’s mother, said. “He is really using her.”
Taiwo Adeshigbin, a devout Christian, knew her path back to the field this season would not be easy, but her faith kept her waking up before sunrise this summer to work on her skills, training for the biggest season of her soccer career.
So far, it has paid off.
Taiwo Adeshigbin’s five goals lead the No. 9-ranked Tigers in 2012. She is a force to be reckoned with when possessing the ball in the opponents’ half, slipping past defenders with ease and finishing shots when the team needs it most. But it’s her leadership off the field that has impressed her teammates.
“Taiwo really came out of her shell this year. She’s so loud and enthusiastic,” midfielder Lauren Flynn said. “This year, there’s a spark.”
The Georgia game will be an opportunity to show numerous friends and relatives just how far she’s come since leaving home. Taiwo Adeshigbin tried to keep a list of people who told her they would attend, but she gave up when the number grew too large to maintain.
Bruno Kalonji, who coached Taiwo Adeshigbin at Georgia Perimeter, hopes to bring his entire team to the match.
“Taiwo is a tremendous leader,” Kalonji said. “She made a massive difference for our program.”
The Tigers (9-1) are in the middle of a tough Southeastern Conference schedule and looking for their first NCAA tournament bid since 2008. It’s safe to say they are hungry.
A victory against the Bulldogs means Taiwo Adeshigbin gets to taste victory as well as her favorite home cooking.