BUCKHANNON – The West Virginia Wesleyan men's soccer team broke into the national rankings this week at No. 22 after a 3-0-1 start to the season.
One of the reasons for the successful start has been the play of senior forward Kevin Nyambi.
The 27 year-old native of France is also the unofficial "Best Dressed Man" at West Virginia Wesleyan. But the man with the wide array of color combinations and a snazzy collection of hats, ties, and other accessories, is also a highly skilled soccer player.
Nyambi's journey to college soccer stardom started back in Europe in his hometown of Chalons-en-Champagne, France. He began playing at the age of five, and played through the age of 12 in his local youth league.
His success as a youth, enabled him to take his talent to France's prestigious Stade-de-Reims Professional Academy. He played for the Academy from the age of 12 until he was 17.
At 17, Nyambi returned to his hometown to focus on his academics and get complete his education in secondary school. For the next seven years of his life, he played for local amateur team while working in the local school system. He served as a tutor for the local middle school, and then for two years at the local high school.
At this time, Kevin made the decision to pursue playing soccer at the collegiate level in the United States. Unfortunately, he could not speak English with any fluency at the time, and this became his first objective. In October of 2014, he traveled to the United States and enrolled in the International Language Academy in the Tyson's Corner area of Washington D.C.
Nyambi studied vigorously at the Academy, and also put in countless hours working on his game and his conditioning. By March of 2015, he raised his TOEFL score by 24 points, and elevated his play on the soccer field. He was now a sought after prospect both academically and athletically for American colleges.
That summer, his decision came down to one of two schools; West Virginia Wesleyan College, and Hawaii-Pacific University. In the end, it was Donaldson and the Bobcats that won out.
"Wesleyan produced a better offer than Hawaii-Pacific," Nyambi said. "It was not that far from my family in the DMV area, and the college and team was a nice fit."
After missing parts of 2015 due to injury, Nyambi came into his own in 2016. An effective passer, he established himself as a strong defender and a strong ball-control player in the midfield area. In a league full of talented midfielders, Nyambi was named First Team by the MEC. He was also named NSCAA All-Atlantic Region.
"I feel that the improvement in my game was more mental than it was physical," Nyambi said. "We had an assistant coach, Daniel Smee, who told me that I needed to develop a short memory…that mindset has made a difference for me. I no longer get down after a mistake, and I don't get too excited after a good play…you have to keep going keep your focus without ever letting up. Part of that comes with maturity, but maintaining focus is something you must continually work on as an athlete at this level."
Besides his work at practice and in the off season, Nyambi also credits the culture at Wesleyan and in Donaldson's program in general as a major boon to his success.
"As a man of color from Europe, I really thought it would be difficult for me at a small school in the mountains, but it has not been difficult at all," Nyambi said. "Right away my teammates, the coaching staff, and the teachers (Dr. Clever, Dr. Buice, Mrs. Shelton, and Mrs. Scott) made me feel at home and comfortable. Three of my teammates were French speakers, so it helped me a lot."
Nyambi noted that past teammates Jens Demul, Jordan Halpern, and Audrey Chefang-Kemseu as the key individuals in aiding his transition to life at an American college.
As a Sociology major, Nyambi is looking at life beyond Wesleyan. He plans to try out for some semi-pro teams in both the U.S. and Canada, and also has sights set on potentially coaching north of the border. He noted that one of his former coaches from the Academy in France, now operates a similar Academy in Canada.
For now, Nyambi is hoping to see his Bobcats advance back the MEC playoffs and beyond.
"We have a nice team, and we are focused on trying to compete with Charleston within our conference," Nyambi said. "It is tough to have a team that is nationally ranked in your league, but we played them close when they came here last year. The good thing about that is this, if we get them, that puts us in a good position to move forward in the national tournament. I want to be a good leader for this group, someone that shows them how to handle adversity and do what I can to lift the play of the players around me."
"Kevin is one of our senior leaders, and one of the returning regulars that we are relying on to perform at a high level for us," Donaldson said. "We need him as a positive presence on the field, and one of the guys to keep the energy in a good direction."
During his senior year, there is one certainty; Nyambi and his elaborate wardrobe will be a daily slice of life at Wesleyan. Sitting in the athletic office in a stylish golf hat and bow-tie (accessorized by aqua colored socks), the star midfielder explains that his style is as much spiritual as it is fashion.
"When I was very young, my family did not have much in the way of resources. At school, a lot of kids would make fun of the way I dressed," Nyambi said. "I realized that as a I grew older, that God sees me as a I am, no matter what I am wearing. My outfits are as much a message as they are style…that we all need to express ourselves. I tell people 'you need to be you' because you can't put yourself into a box and be what the world wants you to be. That's how Jesus lived his life. My dad is a minister, and as I have grown older, my relationship with Jesus has grown in importance every day."
Nyambi and the Bobcats will return to action Thursday night as they host Notre Dame in a battle of top five teams in the Atlantic Region. Kick-off is slated for 6 p.m.