Toni Adewole was an outsider.
It wasn’t so long ago he’d never even heard of The Hill School. Yet three years later, Adewole was on the inside – literally and figuratively – capping his soccer career with the Blues as one of the most outstanding players in the program’s long history.
The Bowie, Md., native came to The Hill as a sophomore – previously unfamiliar with boarding school life, The Hill or Pottstown – and quickly found his footing as an outside back on the Blues’ Pa. Independent Schools Athletic Association champion in 2014.
But following a comparably down year for the Hill boys’ soccer team in his junior season, Adewole, head coach Chris Drowne and just about everyone around the Hill program knew their standout player could be even more influential on a game.
Outside back is where Adewole made his name as a Division I recruit, but all parties realized he could bring even more to the table as a central midfielder. As the fall season progressed, it was hard to know just where he would pop up while being deployed in the midfield or occasionally as a striker or lockdown defender. But the results spoke for themselves.
With the versatile Adewole leading the way, The Hill returned to its recent heights by reclaiming the PAISAA championship, defeating archrival Lawrenceville for the first time in three seasons and amassing a 14-6-1 record.
His postseason accolades included a third Mid-Atlantic Prep League first team honor, selection to the High School All-American Game (played Dec. 3 in Raleigh, N.C.) and now Mercury All-Area Player of the Year. Adewole becomes Hill’s fourth All-Area Player of the Year in five years, following Wyatt Fabian (2012), Colten Habecker (2013) and Mark Forrest (2014).
Adewole lives life being up for a challenge and being willing to get out of his comfort zone. He proved it by coming to Hill and will again when he attends the United States Naval Academy, where he’ll continue his soccer career.
Those philosophies were central themes as he worked to transform himself into a top midfielder.
“I love a challenge that I can continue to pursue it until I achieve it. That’s just my mentality,” Adewole said. “Last year I didn’t really like playing in the middle because I felt it was too congested. I wasn’t used to it. But I started actually working on the things that center mids do, working on the technical things. I got on the field at Hill and I liked it. I like getting in the attack as much as defending; that’s why I play outside back because you’re able to go up and back.”
His scoring record won’t blow anyone away – he had five goals and four assists this fall – but his blend of skill, speed and athleticism molded Hill’s playing identity and his leadership was obvious in the Blues’ late-season peak.
“I don’t think anybody I’ve coached has loved the game of soccer more than Toni,” coach Drowne said. “The other 10 guys just had to do their jobs and didn’t have to think about doing other jobs because they could look up and know Toni had so much covered.
“This year’s team was as hard-working as any we’ve had, maybe not as creative or dynamic, but certainly as tight and hard-working and you add that flair. Toni is the spice on a good meal, that extra spark.”
Having spent his entire life in Maryland and attending Bullis School as a freshman, Adewole didn’t envision heading out of state for his schooling.
Hill coach Drowne and Adewole’s father, Adetoun, forged a connection while taking part in the MTN Football Scholars program, which helps place promising student-athletes in Nigeria into schools and universities in the United States. Adetoun Adewole became intrigued by The Hill and believed it could be a fit for the youngest of he and wife Adeyemi’s four athletically-gifted children (brothers Tomi and Tobi played soccer at Villanova and George Washington, respectively; sister Tejumade ran track at Princeton).
“I didn’t really know I would end up at Hill but my dad was the original one who linked me to Hill. I didn’t know anything about boarding schools,” Toni said. “I didn’t expect it to open up as many doors as it did for me. I’m thankful for that.”
Adewole faced the challenge of embracing his new life … and a different challenge for the future.
“The soccer really helped me because I was able to build friends with soccer. That helped me and connected me to other people and got me more comfortable with the school,” he said. “My sophomore year, Mark (Forrest) kept telling myself and Ethan (Norton), our other captain, ‘You’re going to have to step up and lead the team one day,’” he said. “We actually did and won the state final.”
The results were even better than Adewole envisioned.
“It was shockingly good,” he said of the recently-completed season. “Our juniors have a lot of talent and they’ve played together for many years so the chemistry within them is phenomenal. And with the seniors, we knew we had to ball out. The chemistry made us want to step up even more.
“Sophomore year we might have had a better team, but maybe not as much chemistry as this year.”
The Blues’ season started with a bang when Adewole scored the game-winning goal in a 2-1 win over Kiski on Sept. 10. Hill was 6-3 entering its Mid-Atlantic Prep League schedule. Its opener – a 6-4 loss to Peddie after leading 3-1 at halftime – was an imperfect start to an imperfect MAPL slate in which Hill went 2-3.
But so much of that disappointment washed away on Nov. 5 against visiting Lawrenceville, a 1-0 win in front of an electric atmosphere that included Adewole’s father and sister.
“The captains this year (Adewole and Norton), we hadn’t beaten Lawrenceville until this year. We lost our sophomore year – I remember that game, it was terrible – and junior year we tied in a crazy game,” he said. “I always wanted to beat them, it would be a great feeling with the whole school there and secondly, to be (pictured in the Hill trophy room). It was a big achievement that we had not done yet and I didn’t want to go my senior year without winning against Lawrenceville again.”
“That feeling of beating Lawrenceville boosted us up and we stayed there, especially into the state final.”
Hill finished the season on a five-game winning streak, capping it off with an incredible win in the PAISAA championship on Nov. 16 over Penn Charter, the team that ended the Blues’ season in 2015, decided 12-11 in penalty kicks after a scoreless deadlock.
Adewole was in the midfield for most of the game and was a part of some of Hill’s best chances, and eventually was called upon to shift to center back in overtime to shut down Penn Charter’s striker, which he did with relative ease. In penalties, Adewole was one of three Blues to attempt and convert twice, along with All-Area second team choice Norton and first team pick Jake Fetterman, before goalkeeper Aiden Perry made the decisive save to set off Hill’s celebration.
“The state final, Lawrenceville and the Kiski game, those are my most memorable moments of all time at The Hill. All my friends were there, watching, cheering. It was such a great feeling after we won. It was crazy. Everybody was going crazy. I loved it.”