Tue, Mar

Trinidad and Tobago U-20 goalkeeper Jahiem Wickham in action during a Concacaf U-20 Championship game against Mexico at Estadio Francisco Morazán, Tegucigalpa, Honduras on June 21st 2022.

The U11 Trendsetter Hawks were struggling defensively. When the academy team from Trinidad and Tobago traveled to Toronto, Canada, for a tournament in summer 2013, Jahiem Wickham knew what change had to be made.

“One game we were really conceding a lot of goals, and I hate losing,” Wickham said. “So I was like, ‘I’m going to go in goal and try to stop them from scoring.’”

Head coach Anthony Wickham didn’t stop him. A cousin of Wickham’s, Anthony taught him the basics of goalkeeping, including catching and putting his body behind the ball, Anthony said.

Wickham learned quickly. By February 2014, he led the Hawks to a National U11 Championship, posting a clean sheet in a 2-0 victory over St. Clair Coaching School.

“As the last line of defense, Jahiem showed that he can go out there, compete and stop a lot of goals,” Anthony said. “I think any other goalkeeper might have (allowed) maybe four or five goals.”

Anthony trained Wickham past the U11 level. A strong support system of local coaches helped transform him into a Division I player. Now, he’s part of Trinidad and Tobago’s National Team player pool, waiting for a call-up to the senior team. At Syracuse, Wickham has been thrust into a starting goalkeeper role. In his first three starts, Wickham recorded shutouts, leading him to win Atlantic Coast Conference Defensive Player of the Week.

“He is going to have a great future anywhere he decides to play,” said Rayshawn Mars, Trinidad and Tobago U20 goalkeeper coach. “We are keeping our eyes on him for future representation (with) Trinidad and Tobago.”

Despite being born in the United States, Wickham is eligible for Trinidad and Tobago through his parents, Wesley and Gail Balkissoon-Wickham, who are natives of the country. When Wickham was around 9, his family moved from Turks and Caicos to Trinidad and Tobago.

Wesley said his work in telecommunications causes many moves. But he believes Wickham has learned to adapt through his parent’s travels.

“It contributes a lot to how Jahiem is today,” Wesley said. “We travel a lot, we fit into different cultures as we go. So, for him being humble and obtaining that sort of knowledge from different cultures, I think that contributed to him being the way he is.”

Once they moved to Trinidad and Tobago, Wickham started training with Anthony. Gail described Anthony as a “staple” in Trinidad and Tobago’s soccer community who uses soccer to help kids stay out of trouble.

“(Anthony) was the one that everyone looks up to in the community,” Wesley said. “It’s easy to get involved. He leaves no one behind.”

Gail said Anthony pushed Wickham, helping him ease into the position.

“Ever since I grew up under (Anthony), he always was my mentor,” Wickham said. “He is always looking out for me in soccer, teaching me the basics and stuff like that.”

Anthony instilled a mentality in Wickham to stop the ball at all costs. In training, Anthony had Wickham work on stopping crosses, coming out of the box to secure loose balls and saving shots from the top of the 18-yard box.

Anthony said Wickham initially struggled saving shots from different angles because of his inexperience. He hadn’t needed to utilize his hands before.

“I think that was giving him a little trouble,” Anthony said. “So, we had to work on that aspect.”

Anthony taught Wickham discipline while helping him mature. From a young age, Wickham adopted the habits of going to bed on time and eating a healthy breakfast.

While Anthony taught Wickham the basics, his game was elevated by Nigel Neverson — a legendary soccer coach in Trinidad and Tobago.

Wesley searched the country for another coach that could help develop his son before being directed toward Neverson. Gail said Neverson kept a close training group and didn’t take just anyone. But Neverson saw the “drive and talent” that Wickham displayed and was glad to work with him, Gail said.

“His legacy means a lot back in Trinidad,” Wickham said.

Neverson was “brutally honest” in teaching Wickham. The pair worked on more in-depth skills such as positioning while fending off an attack and diving techniques, Wickham said.

Over time, the two developed a close relationship. Gail and Wesley said they noticed a profound impact on Wickham from Neverson’s coaching.

“He always kept in contact with us, with Jahiem to see his progress,” Gail said. “Indeed, Jahiem has been gone from the country for a bit but he’s made sure to keep him at the forefront of (Neverson’s) mind. I would say that (Jahiem) was probably one of the best connections and relationships that (Neverson) had there.”

In April 2022, Neverson died after suffering a stroke. Wickham said he played an irreplaceable role in shaping him as a man.

“To this day, I’ll remember him no matter what and what he’s done for me,” Wickham said. “It just stays with you.”

Wickham developed enough to earn a call up to Trinidad and Tobagos’s U15 team. He competed in an invitational tournament in the Cayman Islands and also went to CONCACAF U15 in Mexico.

In Sept. 2017, Gail and Wesley moved the family to Toronto. Wickham signed with Toronto FC and attended Blyth Academy. Because he hadn’t been released from Toronto FC, Wickham said he wasn’t eligible for Trinidad and Tobago’s U17 squad despite receiving an offer.

But once Wickham finished high school, he could compete for his country again. While Mars said he only coached him for about two months with the U20s, Wickham displayed a strong commitment to the program.

“Every time we were at practice, he would ask for the extra shot and extra round of drills,” Mars said. “That makes the difference in any and every professional player.”

Wickham’s peak in international soccer thus far was representing Trinidad and Tobago at the CONCACAF U20 World Cup Qualifiers in summer 2022. Wickham helped Trinidad and Tobago to the Round of 16 before falling 4-1 to Costa Rica.

Guided by multiple high-level coaches in Trinidad and Tobago, Wickham has rapidly developed as a goalie. His goal is to one day play for the national team and make a name for himself, he said. But through his personal journey to success, he’s remained grateful for Neverson and Anthony’s advice.

“They both taught me different things and with being in different countries, (they taught me) just how to adapt,” Wickham said. “Everything I knew from them, just a support system and how big it was, I will always remember that.”

SOURCE: The Daily Orange