Glendale senior David Odun-Ayo plants his weight on his right prosthetic foot and kicks a soccer ball with his left.
Odun-Ayo played organized soccer for the first time this season. He initially told the coaches he was a midfielder, a mixture of offense and defense. But Glendale’s coaches liked his aggressive style of play and relentless hustle.
They made him a forward. Odun-Ayo, with a great grin on his face, would go on the attack.
Odun-Ayo had played pickup soccer in streets and fields as a boy in his native Nigeria, but took up football and wrestling at Glendale.
“I’ve always loved soccer, ever since Africa, so I just thought it’s my senior year, the last year, I might as well play with my closest friends,” Odun-Ayo said.
Odun-Ayo was born with proximal femoral focal deficiency, a rare non-hereditary birth defect. Part of his right leg is missing and he walks and runs with a prosthetic leg. Odun-Ayo didn’t let his limb difference stop him from being involved in sports. His billboard smile shows how much he enjoys playing soccer.
“It’s been so fun. I just love being out here. I actually love coming to practice,” Odun-Ayo said.
To many, he’s an inspiration. He just wants to be one of the guys.
Glendale soccer coach Jeff Rogers didn’t hesitate to let Odun-Ayo try out for the Falcons in the preseason, despite his lack of experience in organized soccer. Rogers liked the senior’s contagious positive attitude from the start.
“He said to me, ‘I just want to be a part of it. I’ll be a team manager, I’ll do whatever you want me to do,’ but it worked out that we had a uniform for him on our junior varsity,” Rogers said.
In his debut on the J.V. squad, Odun-Ayo played forward and scored two goals, both on headers.
“One was a diving header. And so after that game — just seeing the smile on his face and interacting with his teammates — he’s been a positive influence on our kids,” Rogers said.
Odun-Ayo has been known to share his story with younger children who have limb differences.
“I have talked to other kids,” Odun-Ayo said. “It’s not like it’s a bad thing or anything. I’m just giving information, telling them no matter what I have, I can still do everything. It’s more like an informational, motivational thing.”
He’s also not afraid to laugh at his circumstances, or let you know it’s OK to laugh along at some of the quirks that come with playing soccer with a prosthetic leg. Odun-Ayo wears a shinguard on his prosthesis, and he’s happy to chuckle about it.
“The rules are rules,” Odun-Ayo laughed.
Coach Rogers shared a story from a tournament in St. Louis, where an athletic trainer who had never met Odun-Ayo noticed him running with a slight limp.
“One of the trainers said, ‘hey, what’s wrong with your leg? Do you need tape or something?’” Rogers recounted. The good-natured Odun-Ayo politely declined any tape and walked away chuckling.
“He’s got a great sense of humor,” Rogers said.
After soccer season, Odun-Ayo will return to wrestling. He wrestles without his prosthetic leg, which allows him to use unorthodox strategies that can cause trouble for the opposition. For a wrestler with all of his body weight on one foot, Odun-Ayo is surprisingly aggressive.
“I’m very low to the ground, so they can’t really take a shot on me,” Odun-Ayo said. “It’s a lot harder for (the opponent) because they have to think for a second what to do to me.”
After high school, Odun-Ayo aspires to study computer engineering. His short list of colleges he would like to attend includes Cal-Berkley and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. There’s a brain for math behind the billboard grin.
“I love math. Oh, I love math and science, definitely,” Odun-Ayo said.
Rogers says Glendale’s soccer program will miss Odun-Ayo’s sense of humor, but also the never-say-quit attitude.