By MIKE MILLER
In Ayo Adjibaba, Mercersburg Academy has a player who mirrors the duality of his native country of Togo.
Adjibaba's play as a linebacker and running back, in its purest sense, is as beautiful as the pristine beaches and sapphire waters of the small west African nation.
Adjibaba's play at both positions is also punishing and rugged like the human-rights abuses that plagued the country over parts of the last two decades.
Mostly, Adjibaba is a football player - and this year he could be one of the Blue Storm's best.
"We were very fortunate to get him here," Mercersburg coach Dan Walker said. "He's a smart kid and a smart football player. He's a very good student and was able to pick up the game very quickly and excel at it. He really excels at it."
Adjibaba came to the United States with his mother when he was 8 years old. Growing up in Chambersburg, the boy's first chance at American sports came with baseball. But in the ensuing years, Adjibaba's neighborhood friends introduced him to football.
He was hooked.
"I love how football can't be a one-man sport," said Adjibaba, a junior who has been playing competitively for five years. "Everyone has to contribute in their own way. Everyone out here has fun playing it. You can be mean on the field, but when you get off the field everyone is friends."
Adjibaba will share the load in Mercersburg's backfield this year with Skye Snayd and Marcus Allen. Last season, Adjibaba received carries in four games, rushing for 190 yards on 28 carries (6.
8 yards per carry). Snayd tallied 107 yards on 16 attempts and Allen is a graduate student, who's coming off an ACL/MCL injury.
The versatile backfield with talented runners is an area that Walker believes will be one of Mercersburg's biggest strengths this season - especially with young and unproven quarterbacks behind center.
"We have three backs that have started in the past," Walker said. "All three of those runners are going to share the duties this season. What's fun is that they're all different runners.
"Snayd is a cutback type of runner. Marcus is a kid with real vision - he can take the ball wherever you want it to go. And then you have Ayo, who guarantees you three yards a play. He guarantees it. Ayo's a bruiser. It's nice to have those different types of runners in the backfield."
Adjibaba, who is 5-foot-6 and 194 pounds, models himself after former NFL running back Christian Okoye, known over his six-year career as "The Nigerian Nightmare."
The similarities do not begin and end with the two players' country of origin. Adjibaba, like Okoye, is a power back, who uses his big body and physicality to outmuscle the opposition.
Adjibaba is also cerebral. Although he's still a developing player, he enjoys the intricacies of football strategy. It's a little like solving a problem in math class - his favorite.
This year, Adjibaba will be calculating a way to keep his football career after he's done at the academy. With a big year on both sides of the ball, Adjibaba could do just that.
"I just love playing football," he said.
Mike Miller can be reached at 262-4788, or firstname.lastname@example.org.