Faith Ekakitie's parents were looking to send their son to an American prep school in hopes of him earning a scholarship. He had been showing an aptitude for basketball in his native Toronto. Quite a few players from Canada have taken this route.
Ted Stewart, an associated dean of admissions at Lake Forest (IL) Academy, was in Toronto watching Ekakitie play basketball about four years ago. As fate would have it, Stewart sat right next to Ekakitie's parents.
The Ekakitie family liked what they saw at Lake Forest and Faith easily fit into the academic structure. However, there was the requirement that he play two sports. After a bit of a nudge, Stewart convinced the gifted athlete to join his football team.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Ekakitie has ascended up the national recruiting rankings as a defensive tackle. The 6-foot-3, 285-pounder is ranked as a four-star prospect by Scout.com, who also rates him as the 20th best player at his position in the Class of 2012.
"He's still a raw football player," Stewart said. "This is only his third year playing, so he still makes mistakes. He still has bad habits that we're trying to fix.
"I think the thing that some people don't realize is that he's still a high school football player. He's not going to be a finished product. But he's a hard-worker with great effort and he's starting to get it. He's understanding what teams are trying to do to him."
Stewart said Ekakitie plays with a high pad level at times, especially against inferior opponents. The coach adds that his defensive tackle also is a rare mix of power and speed. That's what some of the top college programs in the country see.
"He can run, he can bend, he can change direction and he can tackle," Stewart said. "He has big hands and once he gets his mitts on an offensive lineman, he tends to do pretty well against them."
Ekakitie has trimmed his impressive list of suitors down to seven. He used his first of five official visits allowed by NCAA rules at Illinois this past weekend. He's penciled in Boston College, Georgia Tech, Iowa and Oregon for this other officials, while Wisconsin and Northwestern will get unofficials because they are closer to home.
"Those are the Top 7," Stewart said. "Northwestern and Wisconsin are right in there even though they're not getting officials. This is what works out to allow him to see the seven schools he likes."
Ekakitie will visit Boston College on Nov. 2 and Oregon on Nov. 16.
Ekakitie wasn't a household name after his junior year as are many of the country's top players. Stewart sent out his junior film and waited for responses, which were good. Schools started showing up to see him during last winter's basketball practices and games.
"He got to see who would come back week in and week out," Stewart said. "He kind of figured out the schools that were recruiting him. Then they came back through for spring workouts."
Stewart said that his defensive tackle researched a lot of schools on line to get a feel for which ones would fit him well.
"I've been pretty proud of him that he's always looked education first," the coach said. "He understands that football is a way for him to get a great education and that any of the schools that he's looking at will provide him with that and a chance to make it at the next level for football"
Stewart said Ekakitie hasn't decided on a college major.
"It changes every day," the coach said.
Ekakitie told Stewart that the Illinois official visit went well, but didn't elaborate. The Illini came back in exciting fashion to defeat rival Northwestern, 38-35, on Saturday.
"I think he'll use all of his visits," Stewart said. "Oregon is the last one, when they play USC. He's been pretty systematic how he's chosen the schools that are in his Top 7. I expect him to continue to do that.
"I'm hopeful that by the end of the November, the first week of December, he's got a school that he's committed to."
Stewart doesn't sense Ekakitie favoring any school or a few of them. The coach believes the visiting process will play heavily into his decision.
Ekakitie unofficially visited Iowa. He recently wrote down his thoughts about the Hawkeyes in a blog post that you can readhere.
"They've been great," Stewart said. "Coach (Lester) Erb was one of the first coaches around that showed a sincere interest in him. They were one of the first Big Ten schools to offer him.
"The communication has been great. (Erb) doesn't call or email (Ekakitie) so much that it becomes a chore to talk to him. He communicates what he needs to communicate and has told us all along that Faith is one of the guys that they'd really like to sign for next year.
"Coach (Kirk) Ferentz has been great as well. He's starting to talk to Faith on the phone. They're starting to talk to the parents to make sure they feel comfortable with Iowa. They've done everything the right way. I can't speak highly enough of their coaching staff in the recruiting process."
The Hawkeyes already holds verbal commitments from three '12 Chicago area players - Maurice Fleming, Ryan Ward and Jaleel Johnson. The latter is ranked as the No. 19 defensive tackle in the country, one spot of Ekakitie, whose team plays Ward's Providence Catholic squad this week.
"I think he knows them, but I don't think he knows them well," Stewart said.
The Lake Forest Academy coach isn't sure where Ekakitie will end up on the defensive line.
"He can probably hold 300 pounds pretty easily," Stewart said. "I think most schools are being smart and not saying he's definitely and end or a tackle. They're leaving it open. He's athletic enough to play strong side end, but I also could see him easily moving inside and being a pretty good three-technique. He'd be a pretty good nose in a 3-4 because he's got such a quick step."