By Scott Eddy
Director of Athletics Communications
Take a look atop the St. Bonaventure University men's soccer season statistics and two of the names you'll see are Paul Afful and Kosi Nwafornso. That's fitting considering the two have followed similar paths to take their Bonaventure journey.
Afful joined St. Bonaventure last year after traveling from his native Ghana while Nwafornso is in his third season with the program after moving from Nigeria. Fast friends with the Bonnies, both made immediate impacts: Nwafornso earned a spot on the Atlantic 10 All-Rookie Team in 2015 while Afful did so following last season.
The duo has been instrumental in the turnaround of the Bonnies program – going from a 2-16-1 record in 2015 to remaining alive in the A-10 playoff race until the season's final day last year to a strong start this fall. Over the summer, the pair played together in the Premier Development League (PDL), the top amateur soccer league in the U.S. There, they were part of a league championship Charlotte Eagles squad, bringing lessons learned over the summer back to the Bonnies.
But for both, their stories began in nations where the beautiful game is a way of life.
"In Ghana, futbol is the dominant sport. I grew up playing soccer all my life; right from my infancy it has been soccer, soccer, soccer," Afful says. "When it is game day, everyone is ready for it. Bands are playing across the country, they set up giant (TV) screens outside. Before the game, after the game, the atmosphere is very big. There is so much emotion involved with the games. There is so much passion involved; you don't joke with soccer in Ghana."
"Back home," Nwafornso said, "on the streets, anywhere you go it is all soccer. Ninety-nine percent of the kids are playing. It's always been a part of my life."
Nwafornso came to North America from his hometown of Abuja, Nigeria before his journey to SBU, making the trip to Canada as a teenager after his sister married a Canadian man and moved there. While in Canada, Nwafornso's sister introduced him to the idea of potentially playing soccer collegiately in the United States. He was put in touch with a family friend who helped him with a recruiting video and introduced him to college showcases. At one of those showcases he played in front of Kwame Oduro, then an assistant coach at Canisius. When he became head coach at St. Bonaventure, Oduro offered Nwafornso a spot as part of his first recruiting class.
In his first season with the Bonnies, Nwafornso led the team with four goals and eight total points. The next year, Afful continued to help Oduro's rebuilding effort. In his first season in the States, Afful was the lone Bonnie to start every game last year.
Afful already had a connection extremely close to St. Bonaventure: Oduro. The Bonnies' coach was born in Accra, Ghana and grew up in Toronto, maintaining ties to his birth nation. After a friend had watched Afful play at a university there, Oduro began to recruit the 6-foot midfielder who also had interest from Dayton as well in Atlantic 10 recruiting circles.
"When I was a freshman in my college in Ghana, I was working to get the opportunity to play in the U.S.," said Afful, who is from the city of Takoradi and has been in the United States for the past 19 months. "I really planned on coming and this was the right place at the right time."
This past spring, their talents caught the eyes of PDL coaches who wanted the Bonnies duo as a tandem with the champions-to-be of the league. During the summer, Afful played in 10 matches for the Eagles while Nwafornso played in nine for the league that is so high level that 70 percent of Major League Soccer draft selections in the past seven years have PDL experience.
The competition and experience there is something that has undoubtedly strengthened the game of both players after competing among 30 players to make the 18-man roster for each game.
"Everyone is bringing their A-game to make the roster. We brought that mindset back to school with us," Nwafornso said. "We became winners and we know what it is like to win now. We came back thinking that these other schools aren't better than us. We came back ready to play."
But the success they're enjoying now wasn't easy to come by. There was the issue of culture shock to get over, as well as acclimating to changes in the game that came second nature to them.
"It is so different (in America)," Afful says with a smile. "It took a lot of time to adjust. Language-wise, we speak English in Ghana but it is our local dialect. Everything is different. It has been a learning process."
Nwafornso added, "I first visited America with family in 2009 so I knew what to expect. I had to adjust to the weather and being in a small town. We speak English back home, but we speak with French and Creole influences so there was an adjustment. There are terms here that we aren't used to and things we say back home that are normal, people laugh at us here. Like back home we call them trousers, but here people call them pants."
Apart from the dialect there were societal differences to get acclimated to.
"In Ghana, you don't respect time. If you tell someone to come at 9:30, you show up at 10:30," Afful said. "I was finding the time factor very difficult here. I was very late in everything I was doing. When I came here, that was bringing me down."
Afful says the understanding of Oduro to the culture variances has been instrumental to his acclimation to American life.
"I think he has been instrumental in my life here," he emphasized. "He had patience with me."
The game itself is different here as well.
"In America the game is much more physical. They put one or two guys on the good players and mark you," Afful said. "In Ghana they give you free space, but here it is physical. The game is so much more free in Ghana. Soccer language is different, too. It took me awhile to learn translation."
This year, the duo has been at the heart of strong play in non-conference action by the Bonnies. In the season-opener, Afful netted the game-winning goal in an overtime triumph at Bucknell. Two days later, each player had a goal and an assist in a come-from-behind win at Robert Morris. Through eight games, Afful has a team-high eight points while Nwafornso adds five to help the Bonnies to a 3-3-2 start.
Soccer will remain a large part in the lives of both young men – both have hopes to play professionally following graduation, perhaps remaining in the United States or pursuing opportunities overseas. Regardless of where the road takes them, St. Bonaventure has become their home thousands of miles away from their homelands.
"Bonaventure has been a great experience throughout my stay here," Afful said. "It has been very welcoming. People are respectful and see each other as family."
"The family," Nwafornso says, "that's been the biggest thing. Friends are always there for you. Everyone knows everybody. I know so many people's names here; that's just how it works. The family aspect here is the biggest thing that has made Bonaventure special."
For the latest news on St. Bonaventure athletics, stay connected on social media. Follow the Bonnies on Twitter @Go_Bonnies and get men's soccer updates @BonniesMSoccer. Keep up with the Bonnies on Facebook /GoBonnies and on Instagram @GoBonnies.