As one of the best junior soccer players in the country, Sammed Bawa
is being coveted to play in top-notch tournaments and camps this summer.
Bawa is excited for his opportunities on the field but what he's looking forward to the most is heading back home to Ghana.
Bawa moved to the United States right before his freshman year to get the education and soccer experience he desired at The Taft School (Watertown, Conn.)
. Now a junior, Bawa hasn't been able to get back to his homeland.
"I miss my mom," Bawa said. "I need to see her."
During his trip to Ghana, Bawa has many things planned including running a one-day, eight-team soccer tournament for kids 13 and under in his community. He's trying to raise $6,000
for the trip and will be bringing cleats, jerseys and other accessories for the underprivileged kids.
If Bawa ends up with extra money after the fundraiser, he'd like to purchase electric fans for families in his former village.
"If I can help these kids, it will be one of my bigger achievements," Bawa said. "I'm really looking forward to it and I hope it works out."
Bawa wants to give the kids in Ashaiman, Ghana, a chance to play soccer but also add an education component and talk to them about the importance of staying in school.
"I want to show them that they can actually make it, so I just feel like I need to give them something," Bawa said.
Bawa has certainly made it on and off the soccer field. After a big sophomore campaign in which he tallied 23 goals, Bawa amassed 26 goals and 12 assists as a junior last fall.
"He's blessed with incredible physical gifts: his speed, his strength, his agility all catch your eye right away," Taft boys soccer coach Ozzie Parente said. "He's got the skills to match that. He's really electric. He's really a game-breaking type of player. He's very versatile."
Bawa was one of 150 high school juniors named as Allstate All-Americans in December and will be considered for participation in the Allstate Cup this summer in Orlando.
Former Major League Soccer and U.S. men's national team members Taylor Twellman and Brian McBride will join the likes of former U.S. women's national soccer team standouts and Olympic gold medalists Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain to coach and mentor these promising high school players at the event.
"I want to make it to the biggest stage, so being recognized as an All-American is an honor to me," said the 18-year-old. "It lets me know whatever I'm doing, people are watching and I shouldn't stop what I'm doing. I just need to keep going harder."
Prior to coming to the United States, Bawa had the shot to train at the Right to Dream Academy, which brings together elite soccer players in Ghana and develops them as student-athletes.
"They developed his skills and athleticism, and he continues to work extremely hard both with our team and individually," Parente said. "He's got very big dreams and he's what happens with you have incredible natural ability and then you mix that with intense-driven work ethic."
Even though he had a big year statistically, Bawa believes his junior year could have been a whole lot better. A bulging disc in lower back made Bawa feel "withdrawn" on the soccer field.
"It's affected me a lot, the way I play," said Bawa, who plays midfield/forward. "Going for air balls, I have to think about, should I go or not?"
Bawa said he's about 85 percent recovered at this point. But a slowed version of the Taft star is still better than most high school soccer players in the United States. Bawa feels like he's upped his game in just the three years playing at the Connecticut school.
"I'd say I've become a better soccer play not just my skill but also my confidence," Bawa said. "Confidence is something I struggle with, and I still do – obviously coming back from injury I lost all my confidence. I didn't know how the game was going to go."
Parente knows Bawa possesses some amazing soccer skills. He has a very strong shot, is a good finisher from far away and is a special player when he has 1-on-1 and 1-on-2 opportunities.
When the ball gets on Bawa's foot, Parente calls it a "must-see" moment in a game.
"You can't take your eyes away for a second," Parente said. "It's electric. It's dynamic, and there's a sense that something special could happen at any moment. The other thing I can kind of sense from the opposition is fear and, ‘Oh God, here we go again.' A sense that we're going to have to deal with this relentless attack for 90 minutes."
In Bawa's opinion, what makes him a good soccer player?
"My will to win and my will to be the best on the field," Bawa said. "I just don't like to leave the field knowing that I didn't give it all I've got and I have to show the world that I am the best on that field today."
Bawa started getting recruited as a freshman. Wake Forest and some other big-name schools were tracking Bawa. But he knew his ideal destination and waited for North Carolina to offer.
"I had seen them play since I had come to the states," Bawa said. "I liked their playing style. I like their philosophy. I like the roles of their number nine and number 10. I just see myself playing there. … The UNC coach, he just is interested in me more than a soccer player, actually."
One week after receiving the scholarship offer by the Tar Heels at the end of his sophomore season, Bawa accepted.
"He was smiling ear to ear as soon as he got the news," Parente said.
It's always been Bawa's goal to play professional soccer. The Right to Dream Academy has had great success in developing pro players.
"So many things have to go right to have a professional career but he's got a lot of the tools and he is relentless in pursuit of improvement and development as an athlete and as a person," Parente said. "I certainly wouldn't bet against him."