Two foreign nationals who found their athletic footing in Santa Barbara have signed National Letters of Intent to compete at four-year universities next year.
Cate School’s Buba Fofanah has committed to play soccer at the University of Portland while SBCC’s Lars Bardenhagen will be playing football at William Jewell University of Liberty, Mo.
Fofanah, who is originally from Keneme, Sierra Leone, was voted to the All-CIF Southern Section Division 6 first team this year while also winning Tri-Valley League Offensive Player of the Year honors.
“Buba is going to be a great addition to our greater university community as he is a very grateful, humble, and hard-working student-athlete,” Portland coach Nick Carlin-Voigt said. “Buba is a special person who can light up a room with his smile and personality.
“In the classroom, Buba understands the opportunity at hand to continue to grow and develop scholastically here on the Bluff.”
Fofanah also starred in track at Cate, winning both the 100 and 200 meters as a junior at last year’s Santa Barbara County Track and Field Championships. This year’s meet was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
His youth soccer accomplishments included playing for the Boys ODP National Championship team in 2017. He was named to the ODP All-Tournament Team in both 2017 and 2018.
“Buba is a striker who has pace and power to stretch the game,” Carlin-Voigt said. “We think his best is ahead and once he adapts to our daily competitive environment he will improve tactically and technically.
Top Drawer Soccer has ranked Portland’s recruiting class at No. 6 in the nation.
Bardenhagen, meanwhile, came to SBCC from Hamburg, Germany. He had never played football before walking on with the Vaqueros in August of 2018. Less than two years later, he took part in a Zoom online signing ceremony with his parents, coach Craig Moropoulosm, and the William Jewell staffl.
“One of my first days on campus, I walked into Coach Morop’s office and I was pretty straightforward, asking if there was any way I could sign up for the team,” Bardenhagen said. “He asked what position I played and I told him I’d never played football.
“He told me if you come to spring workouts and put your heart into it and work with us, then we can see what we can do with you. From there on, it’s been a pretty amazing journey.”
Bardenhagen played wide receiver during his first season in 2018 and switched to defensive back as a sophomore while also playing on special teams both seasons.
“He went home last summer and managed to gain 40 pounds of solid weight,” Moropoulos said. “I was very impressed with that. My No. 1 thing about Lars is his willingness to do whatever is asked.”
He intercepted a pass during his first game of 2019.
“It’s been an amazing experience playing on the team and going to school here,” Bardenhagen said. “I’ve never had so much fun in school.”
He has compiled a grade-point average of 3.67 as a Marketing and Business major and was a top-10 SCFA Scholar-Athlete while also making the SBCC Honor Roll.
“When I got my first NAIA offer, I was blown away because I’d only been in this for two years,” Bardenhagen said. “Then more offers came in and William Jewell was the first Division 2 to contact me. I’m so excited to start playing there.”
His father, J.B. Bardenhagen, said it was difficult for his wife, Angela, to have her son pursue his athletic dream so far from home.
“But he had this dream and he worked so hard for it every day,” J.B. Bardenhagen said. “Every day, he gets closer to his dream. He played other sports like karate and soccer, but his ultimate goal was to play football.”
He is one of 10 Vaqueros from the 2019 team to commit to a four-year school. The others are:
Nathan Morrow (offensive line, Houston Baptist); Sidney Luna-Long (wide receiver, Jamestown, N.D.); Scotty Forbes (quarterback, Christopher Newport U., Va.); Jordan Francis (defensive back, Eastern New Mexico); Isaiah Rogers (defensive back, Eastern New Mexico); Nazir Hopson (defensive back, West Liberty, W.Va.); Colton Takis (offensive line, Keiser U., Fla.), and Ben Dixson (wide receiver, UNLV).