`Changed my life'; Yeboah rises from Vernon Hill to All-American.
WORCESTER - Bernard Yeboah of Worcester's Vernon Hill neighborhood has developed a habit of opening doors for himself and then rushing through them.
A senior at Worcester Academy, Yeboah already has lived a full and inspiring life at 18 years old. Last week, he capped a stellar high school soccer career by being named the school's first All-American in the 101 years it has played the sport.
It was just the latest example of Yeboah taking advantage of his opportunities.
He led one of the top prep programs in the country to three straight winning seasons - two as the team's sole captain, as voted by his teammates. Yeboah, the Hilltoppers' leading scorer in each of his three varsity seasons, has accepted a full athletic scholarship to play at the University of Vermont.
"Me coming here basically changed the whole course of my life," Yeboah said. "If any opportunity comes along, don't wait."
Worcester Academy coach James Proctor has had three years to appreciate his brawny, 5-foot-11 striker and is as impressed with his character as his foot skills.
"He's had a lot of obstacles and he's very good at finding a way to navigate past them," Proctor said, "but I don't think he takes obstacles as a negative either. I think he gets that it's a challenge and a journey and any situation, he can do it."
If the standard for a successful striker is an average of one goal per game, Yeboah met the mark. He scored 22 goals as a freshman at South High, and added 38 more in 42 career games at Worcester Academy.
To equate the difference in competition, most top high school teams are lucky to have one or two players continue at the college level. All seven of Proctor's seniors have places to play next year.
Improving their record every year, the Hilltoppers peaked this fall by going 13-2-2 and winning the WNEPSSA Class A regular-season title. They had two major win streaks, stringing together seven in a row while starting the season unbeaten through nine games. Only a loss to highly rated Hotchkiss School separated that stretch from another six straight wins over the final month.
The season ended in the NEPSAC Class A semifinals against Philips Exeter. Yeboah scored in the 74th minute to put the hosts ahead in an eventual 2-1 loss.
"Our team is very close, so it's more of like a family experience even though that sounds corny," said Yeboah, who totaled 13 goals for the season.
Although he was already an impressive contributor coming in as a sophomore, Yeboah's biggest leap as a player came during that offseason.
"That was the first time I played when I was like, `Oh, shoot, I'm not the best player out here,'" said Yeboah, who dedicated himself to improving his conditioning and using the work ethic that he calls part of his ethnic culture. "My sophomore year going into my junior year, that's when I started to zone in."
Like many in Worcester's vibrant, mostly working class Ghanaian community, Yeboah is a transplant to the Worcester area and has lived much of the past decade in the area directly bordering Worcester Academy's Gaskill Field.
For the first nine years of his life, Yeboah often shuttled back and forth between Italy - he was born and spent most of his early childhood in the city of Brescia - and his parents' native Ghana, home of much of his extended family.
His parents, Maxwell Yeboah and Elizabeth Adoma Woodbury, made the tough decision to relocate again, this time to Worcester, in search of a better life.
To say that Yeboah has lived a charmed life belies the evidence, which tells the story of a tireless worker who has earned all of his breaks.
His older brother, Clifford Yeboah, 24, was a former standout at South, but Bernard could play with him at a young age and was spotted by coaches from the FC Puma club at the Teamworks indoor soccer facility in Northboro. Bernard was a sixth-grader holding his own against Clifford's high school friends.
When Bernard was 14, FC Puma was in the process of being absorbed by the club system Proctor is involved with, NEFC. His coach at the time, Ryan Sullivan, mentioned Yeboah to Proctor and arranged an introduction during team tryouts at the Fore Kicks sports complex in Marlboro in June 2010.
They exchanged phone numbers, and Yeboah called Proctor the next day and was on campus soon after to schedule an admission interview.
Yeboah said he consulted with Joe Younge, a neighborhood friend who was two grades ahead of him and played soccer at Worcester Academy. Younge gave him the thumbs-up and Yeboah decided he was fully invested in gaining admission.
Proctor said in similar situations in the past, potential students often dilly-dally for up to a month, but Yeboah had all of his paperwork in order within two weeks.
"Bernard was quick, and that was the part that interested me the most," Proctor said. "It was his determination to want this that impressed me. Not many 14-year-old boys are that responsible or driven at that age to move schools like that."
Yeboah is comfortable and outgoing when the soccer team does community outreach in the area. He also helps out at Worcester Academy's summer soccer camp and does well with the kids.
"If you ask the kids in the program, I think Coach Bernard is one of the most popular," Proctor said. "He can get down on the kids' level and be fun."
Yeboah has plenty of experience in that field, often looking after his brothers, Emmanuel, 10, and Jeremy, 5, while his parents work long shifts.
"They work so much just to provide for us," Yeboah said, but part of that equation involves him handling issues that parents normally would, like financial aid.
"For a 14-year-old turning 15-year-old, to put that together and get his parents' tax returns and everything, I think that alone showed the school something," Proctor said. "I just put it down to his determination to better himself."
CUTLINE: (1) Bernard Yeboah was named Worcester Academy's first boys' soccer All-American. (2) Worcester Academy boys' soccer All-American Bernard Yeboah, left.
PHOTOG: COURTESY PHOTOS