Fejiri Okenabirhie took Rovers’ no.9 shirt when he signed from Shrewsbury Town in January and had made a good start to life in red and white hoops scoring twice in five appearances.
Speaking to the League Football Education's (LFE’s) Touchline magazine, Okenabirhie admitted that his journey to professional football hasn’t been the most conventional and as a result education has always been important to him.
While completing his apprenticeship at Stevenage, he made the choice to undertake additional A-levels on of top of the educational framework set out by academies in order to give himself the best route back into education if the apprenticeship was ultimately unsuccessful.
“When you’re an apprentice, there are no guarantees that you’ll get a professional contract,” Okenabirhie told LFE in 2019.
“Education gives you something to fall back on in terms of giving you knowledge and opportunities for life after football, but it can also be beneficial in the present.
“It was something I wanted to do and was able to do. It was quite tough at times to balance the two but I’m pleased I got them done and it didn’t negatively affect my football because I still got a pro contract at the end as well.”
Okenabirhie believes that extra studying off the field ultimately helped him succeed on it.
“As well as obvious transferable skills like self-motivation and time management, it keeps you sharp mentally and gives you something to focus on away from football,” he added.
“It’s a way to relax your mind from those pressures, but also provides stimulation as you’re learning new information.”
After a year as a pro at Stevenage, he was released by the club and found a home at non-league club Harrow Borough before getting a move to National League side Dagenham & Redbridge.
“When I moved down to non-league, I had more time on my hands and wanted to make use of that, so I decided to start an Open University degree in business and management,” he said.
“Doing the course part-time doesn’t affect your training schedule, so I started that just after I left Stevenage. Studying part-time means it takes quite a while to complete so you’ve got to stay motivated.
“If you’re someone who enjoys learning then why not continue that? For me, the Open University route has made it very manageable and it doesn’t get in the way of my football. You just have to organise your time, get that preparation right and then have the willpower to get on with it.”
Fejiri Okenabirhie featured in Issue 37 of LFE’s Touchline magazine.