Stephenson brings pro-caliber skill to Ephmen

Khari Stephenson ’04 didn’t wait until he got to Williams to start turning heads on the soccer field. Stephenson, who grew up and still resides in Jamaica, started playing soccer at the age of four. He was inspired by his father and especially his older brother, both of whom were serious soccer players. “My older brother was doing all these moves, and I was always upset that I couldn’t too,” he said. Now he can, and he does.

Stephenson went to elementary and high school in Jamaica before transferring to Choate, a Connecticut prep school where he spent two years before coming to Williams. Looking back, Stephenson credits his elementary school soccer coach with most of his development. Stephenson says time spent playing soccer is most important since “if you have a good background in soccer, you’re set;” other specifics of the sport can always be ironed out later on.

Stephenson began playing for youth teams in Jamaica at age 12 and continues to do so now, playing for the under-23 Jamaican National Olympic team. He competed in the under-20 World Cup in 2001 in Argentina, where he played in front of 50,000 people. His Jamaican team finished third in its group.

At the beginning of this school year, in fact, Stephenson traveled with the under-23 team to Cuba, where they tied 1-1 in the first round of the Olympic tournament. Stephenson has and continues to train with the full senior Olympic team from Jamaica and this summer was invited to compete in one game against a team from Brazil. His team won 2-1; Stephenson played 20 minutes and deemed his performance a “pretty good game.”

Here at Williams, many people view Stephenson as the soccer sensation set to fill the role of Alex Blake ’03, who graduated last year and was drafted to play for the Colorado Rapids of the MLS, the professional soccer league of the United States.

Asked about being stereotyped as the guy that Williams needs to fill Alex’s shoes, Stephenson, a midfielder, said that he believes that “Alex is a better striker, a pure striker, but I am a more all-around player.”

Stephenson has high expectations this year and believes that if he works hard he will be able to capture the Div. III Player of the Year Award. He knows that in order to do so, he will have to address parts of his game. Stephenson clearly possesses all the skills needed to succeed, but knows his weaknesses, commenting that “my biggest problem is that I’m inconsistent at times and I need to work to improve the team as a whole, not just play for myself.”

Here at Williams, Stephenson has had a great soccer experience. His most memorable moment as an Eph came in the second round of last year’s NCAA tournaments, when he led the team to a 4-1 victory over defending champion Richard Stockton by scoring the first three goals of the game. “A lot of people underrated Williams and said we couldn’t do it,” Stephenson said. “We showed the country that we were a team to look out for.”

This year, Stephenson looks forward to the Middlebury game, which traditionally tends to be one of the more competitive match-ups of the season. He can recall the rivalry starting when he was a freshman, when he helped Williams defeat the Panthers 2-1 in a four-overtime game plagued by freezing rain. Unfortunately, Stephenson may be unavailable for the game this year, as he will be with the Jamaican National team.

When asked about his future in soccer, Stephenson said that he would “like to try to play for a pro-league after college, preferably in Europe,” where competition is stronger and games are more competitive. In response to the MLS, Stephenson gives the league a lot of credit but explains that the “MLS is a developing league with many restrictions on foreign players, namely that only three foreign players may be on a team’s roster. It would thus also be more difficult to get on a team and remain on the team as a foreign-born athlete.

Stephenson recognizes that “if this soccer thing doesn’t work out, a Williams degree in economics is sure to help.” He hopes, even after soccer, to start and manage a company. Right now, however, soccer is his priority. And there is no reason to believe that it will not “work out.”