Murray prep athlete from Nigeria will call Southern Utah University home
May 10, 2017 09:56AM
By Travis Barton
Somtochukwu Achebo will play football this fall at Southern Utah University. (Hudl.com)
By Carl Fauver | [email protected]
Somtochukwu Achebo has a personal story that may be even more unusual than his name.
“In my tribal language, ‘Somto’ means ‘join me,’” Achebo said. “And ‘Chukwu’ means ‘Heavenly Father.’ So, my name means ‘join me and together let’s praise God.’”
Born and raised in the West African country of Nigeria, Achebo, or “Sommy” as he’s known, came to the United States three years ago to attend the prestigious Mount Vernon Academy private school on Vine Street, in Murray.
“His parents were educators in Nigeria and wanted the best learning opportunities for their son,” academy Principal Mike Lambson said. “Besides being an outstanding athlete, he’s also a 4.0 student… on track to be our valedictorian… and was our student body president last year.”
Lambson said he probably would have been elected again, but chose not to run, so someone else would have the opportunity.
“I really love it here,” Sommy said. “My first night in America was lonely, because I was all alone in a New York hotel. But the next day I arrived here in Utah, and have felt welcome ever since.”
In the tight-knit Mount Vernon community, Achebo lives with Kelly Hill, the school’s kindergarten teacher and her family. Hill is Principal Lambson’s sister.
“My parents started this school in 1975, mostly to have more control over the education of their own kids,” Lambson added. “I’m one of six boys and two girls and we’ve all worked here at one time or another…six of us, full time.”
The small school has about 100 students, kindergarten through 12th grade. Nearly half (45) are ninth through 12th grade.
Acerbo has succeeded as a student athlete since the moment he arrived.
“He’s played three basketball seasons, two soccer seasons, two football seasons and is on our track team this spring,” Lambson said.
In basketball, the Deseret News named Sommy to their Class 1A All-State honorable mention team. On the soccer field, Achebo once scored nine goals in a single game and he’s a favorite to challenge for the 1A state track title in the 100- and 200-meter sprints this month.
“I love all kinds of sports,” Achebo said. “But I’m newest to football.”
The first American football game Sommy ever watched was the Super Bowl in February 2015. Less than two years later—after playing two seasons for Granger High School—he signed a letter of intent to play his newfound sport at Southern Utah University.
“After seeing what a great athlete he is, I told Sommy he should try football,” Lambson said. “Because we don’t have a football team here (at Mount Vernon Academy) he was allowed to play for Granger.”
“I rode the bus to practice every day,” Sommy said.
At 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, Sommy was one of the top defensive backs in the state last fall.
“I was named the Granger High School ‘Special Teams Player of the Year,’ two years in a row,” he said. “And last year they also gave me the ‘Most Improved Player’ award.”
Back home in Nigeria—7,300 miles east of Murray—Sommy’s father passed away, just a couple of weeks before he discovered football.
“I didn’t go home for the funeral,” Achebo said. “But I spoke with my dad by phone the night before he died. He made me promise to work hard to support my family, and that’s what I’m trying to do. I only work part time right now, but I already send what I can home to them.”
With an outstanding 40-yard dash time of 4.41 seconds, a vertical jump of 38 inches and bench press max of 275, Sommy is expected to quickly become a major contributor to the SUU Thunderbird team.
“He’s just a great kid,” Lambson added. “It’s funny how his parents learned about us (Mount Vernon Academy) simply by seeing an advertisement posted on line. Yet that’s led to a great opportunity for Sommy, and a chance for us to have one of the most outstanding students we’ve ever had.”
“My home in Nigeria had no running water,” Sommy said. “So I’ve come a long way already. But I want to go further…maybe even to the NFL.”