Adjusting to life in Montana hasn’t always been easy for Didier Ndedi.
How could it be? Ndedi, a native of the west-central African country of Cameroon, has been forced to overcome a language barrier, cultural differences and a distinct climate change since he came to the United States.
But the basics of soccer are the same anywhere in the world. So when Ndedi was hired to become the boys soccer coach at Billings Central, it felt right.
“It’s not easy. Especially in Montana,” said Ndedi, who played professionally in Cameroon and other places in Europe and Southeast Asia. “It’s very cold. Because I’ve been in Germany, I have an idea of cold, but it’s still difficult.
“But, man, we’re human and we have to live in this world. So we have to adjust and make it work.”
Making it work has been Ndedi’s specialty with the Rams this year. The first-year coach has guided Central to a 12-1-0 record and a spot in the Class A state semifinals, where it will host Stevensville Saturday at Wendy’s Field on the campus of Rocky Mountain College.
Not knowing what to expect early on, the Rams thoroughly responded to Ndedi’s coaching style, which stresses a sound technical game and all-around teamwork.
“The kids are amazing,” Ndedi said, a deep accent rolling off his tongue. “They listen a lot. And the most I’m happy about is that they’re very, very respectful. They’re very, very careful about what they’re saying and very respectful of each other. They never complain in the game.
“They just want to have fun, that’s what I did understand with them.”
Growing up in Douala -- Cameroon’s largest city and a major port town located on the Wouri River -- soccer was a birthright for Ndedi. From an early age Ndedi honed his skills into a pro career that eventually took him through Germany and Thailand.
Injuries eventually sidelined him, and he later found himself in the Billings area after he became acquainted with his now-wife via the Internet. But soccer remained in his blood, and when the Rams needed a coach, Ndedi went for it.
The team has reaped that benefit ever since.
Ndedi “kind of changed things up on us,” said senior Conor Sheehy, one of the Rams’ top players. “We kind of play a different way than we’re used to. He’s a good coach and when he goes one-on-one with somebody he tells you exactly what you need to do. We’re responding really well to that and we’re playing the way he wants us to and it’s working out.
“Didier’s been around soccer a long time, so we trust him. We’re doing what he wants us to do.”
Mentoring teenagers who don’t possess the skills he was familiar with back home, Ndedi said he’s had to bear down to learn one key facet of coaching.
“Patience,” Ndedi said. “To be very, very patient with those kids. In the United States soccer is in the minority, it’s not a majority. I just have to be patient with them, and they’re going to be better.”
Central’s only loss this season came in an early-season match against Stevensville, a 4-1 defeat. In their first trip back to the state semis since 2009, the Rams look to turn the tables on the Yellowjackets (8-4-1) this time.
Ndedi has a plan mapped out.
“It’s going to be a lot mentally,” he said. “They’re going to come with speed and physic(al play). They think they’re more physical than us because I have those tiny kids. But I’m confident in the kids.
“I know we’re better than Stevensville technically. They’re going to come with a lot of pressure -- just kick and rush, kick and rush -- to try to take us out of our system. So we’re going to try to be patient and keep working on our system.”