Anyone hoping for a rookie who offers interest on and off the field need look no further than Jeremy Ebobisse, a pre-signed underclassman who went to the Portland Timbers as the No. 4 pick in Friday's SuperDraft. Fresh off a US U-20 training camp in Florida last week, the Duke product arrived late at this year’s MLS Combine. Still, he easily scored the game-winner for Team Copa in his only Combine match, when his side came out winning 2-1 on Thursday afternoon vs. Team Control.
Ebobisse’s path to MLS bucks the usual draft-class trend – he eschewed his junior year at Duke to sign a pro contract with MLS, spending the fall at USL side the Charleston Battery. That’s where he’s distinguished himself as a physical but speedy prospect who’s versatile on the attack.
But outside the white lines, he’s proving an equally distinguished figure. Though he boasts only just shy of 1000 followers on his Twitter account, @kingjebo, the 19-year-old hasn’t shied away from using the account to opine on larger issues. Where some would see a looming pro career as a signal to go as publicly milquetoast as possible, Ebobisse has taken the opposite tack. While you’ll find him posting to praise Duke, his teammates there, and his other soccer peers, you’ll also find him sharing articles and thoughts on social activism, alongside book and documentary recommendations.
And the more his profile rises, the more he feels responsible to use it for good, he told MLSsoccer.com on Thursday afternoon, after his Combine match. “I think it’s really important for us to use our platform to spread our message,” he said. “As long as we’re not encouraging any kind of dangerous behavior, and just conveying information to our followers, I think it’s really important that we stay true to ourselves. That’s kind of the way I’ve approached the last six months as a professional.”
In fact, he said, he’s become more outspoken since turning pro. “I guess a lot has happened, both on and off the field,” he said. “I just feel as if there’s so much divide – and so many people are holding their emotions back, holding what they think – that they don’t want to have these conversations.”
On the athletic side, he says, playing with Duke in the ACC provided the highest possible level of competition and quality of play, Ebobisse said. “Each year, at least eight ACC teams make it to the NCAA tournament. So that’s just a testament to the level of games, week in and week out,” he said. “And for my individual development, it worked out perfectly for me.”
Right, that. Between practice sessions, he said, student life got him thinking about how he could help effect positive change, even in a small way. His awakening, he said, happened after a nationally publicized incident in spring of 2015, when a noose was discovered hanging on Duke’s main quad. In the aftermath, Ebobisse drew strength from the campus dialogue among student groups, and between them and the board.
“At the time, I felt as if I didn’t feel comfortable stepping up, and I felt as though there were people better suited to take the lead on that. And in hindsight, I wish I had taken a little more part in that,” he said. But that’s changed for the future.
“I think the way I handle myself now is a testament to how far I’ve come since being kind of a young freshman at Duke,” he added, “to being confident in what I think of and trying to articulate in as appropriate of a way as possible.”
From there, Ebobisse eventually found his way to his main passion: education reform. An unbiased, rigorous profession in a 101-level course in education, he says, opened his eyes to how differently students around the country might access education, and what they might learn about the same subject.
“The history of education aligns with a lot of racial issues and other social issues, and taking that class was just really eye-opening,” he said. “I grew up in a pretty affluent area, so I had a good education and it kind of pains me that so many other people from so many other different kinds of neighborhoods aren’t getting the same opportunities as I have.”
Still, Ebobisse remains focused on the biggest looming opportunity in front of him: His pro career on the pitch. His intellect will likely boost his creative problem-solving there, too. And the rest? You may agree or disagree with what he has to say – but a passionate thinker will stand out from much of the rookie pack, and likely develop into a personality fans want to follow.
“My friends circle, we all have pretty different points of view across the spectrum, but now we’re all talking about [social issues] on a regular basis,” he said. “For me, personally, that’s the goal, and I’m achieving that on a small scale, hopefully.”