When Sammed Bawa left Ghana and arrived for his freshman season at Taft, he feared the warnings were true.
Ozzie Parente, his coach at the Watertown, Conn.-based prep school, grouped every player — Americans, internationals and Bawa, a Right To Dream student — together for preseason, regardless of talent. The catch? He didn’t know in America varsity and junior varsity teams begin preseason together, then teams are picked.
Every bit he was told — that a talented midfielder like himself should take the pro route instead of the prep one, that the level of American soccer was low — raced into his mind. Those perceptions quickly went away, helped along by reassurances from Francis Atuahene, a fellow Right To Dream player who went to Hotchkiss and plays for FC Dallas of Major League Soccer.
“Once everything got set, the level didn’t quite feel like back home in the academy, but it was close,” said Bawa, a University of North Carolina commit entering his junior season. “Then we started playing Andover, Berkshire, Loomis and Hotchkiss — they pushed me to my limits. That’s when I realized that the level overall is really good and competitive.”