Monday may have been one of the best days that Atlanta United’s Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu experienced in months. It was a more-than-justified bit of indulgence after he received a degree in economics from Harvard on Friday.
He went to Top Golf in the morning. He baked banana bread, something he had never before done and which turned out well (he urged teammate Miles Robinson to verify). He made pasta salad. He cooked a steak.
Monday was good because it was Wheeler-Omiunu’s first day off with no soccer, no studies, no … anything that wasn’t mandatory.
“It was my first full day off,” he said.
Wheeler-Omiunu’s previous few months were a little bit crammed.
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He was selected No. 46 in the SuperDraft in January.
Around then, he started to take his last four classes: Macroeconomic Theory, Economics of Discontinuous Change, an independent study focused on sports business and another on asexual reproduction in vertebrates because he wanted to mix in a little bit of science with the all of the math required with economics.
The first week of studying and soccer wasn’t too difficult.
And then, as if trying to play a man down for most of a game, things became really hard.
He would spend 6-8 hours on soccer. He knew he had to be dialed in all day, every day.
Once the daily soccer was done it was time go home.
He would want to nap, but he faced 4-5 hours of studying online or from textbooks.
Mentally, he would experience fear and exhaustion, particularly as assignments came due, midterms or final exams, which would require him to fly to Harvard.
“My confidence wavered for both soccer matters and scholastic matters,” he said. “There was two weeks I’d feel good and then an assignment coming up, and I would have a poor performance training and then I would be in a mentally poor place.”
Those feelings didn’t leave until he received his final grades. His last final was May 13. It was 100 multiple-choice questions with a lot of math. It took three hours. If he didn’t earn a certain grade, he wouldn’t receive his degree.
He waited, passing the time by putting together a bookshelf he bought from Ikea.
He received the grade May 16.
He was a Harvard graduate, the first in his family to complete an education at an Ivy League School. As gifts, he gave his mother, Linda, an administrator at a nursing home in Massachusetts where he grew up, and his father, David, who immigrated from Nigeria and became an assistant district attorney for a county in Massachusetts, Atlanta United jerseys with his name on the back.
“Education is important to me and my family and has been stressed my entire life,” he said. “It’s not something I accept. It’s something I own and firmly believe in.
“When soccer ends, whenever that is, it’s my education that will carry me through my majority of my life. Competitive soccer is a small percentage of my life.”
Wheeler-Omiunu’s teammates were impressed by his work ethic.
Michael Parkhurst left Wake Forest with a year remaining. He said it took him another six years to complete his degree in history.
“I know it’s difficult,” he said. “ ‘Welcome to adulthood, you made it.’ It’s a credit to him. He’s got that in his locker for life now.”
Yamil Asad said it’s rare in his native Argentina for a professional soccer player to attempt to also complete a degree from university.
“When I have children I hope they are able to dedicate themselves (like he did),” Asad said.
Wheeler-Omiunu isn’t sure what he will do once his professional soccer career is over. He has an interest in politics.
For now, he will focus on soccer.
His goal hasn’t changed and seems another way to consider why he tackled academics and soccer simultaneously.
“It’s to add something to the group I’m in every day,” he said. “If I’m not adding I’m not doing my job. I want to push my teammates as they push me.”