Written by Anthony Rinaldi '19
- Endicott Sports Information Graduate Assistant
BEVERLY, Mass. – Endicott sophomore men's soccer student-athlete Charles Badji has had a unique path to the North Shore.
For the first six years of his life, Charles lived in Senegal, a country in the western part of Africa, which has a population of over 15 million. Charles lived there with his mother and went to grade school, while his father and brother Dominique lived in Tanzania.
His love for the sport of soccer also began in Senegal when his neighborhood formed a team. Charles would go to school every day, then he would hang out after school and practice with his team.
This was his routine until he turned seven.
Then, everything changed.
When he turned seven, Charles would leave the country of Senegal for the first time in his life moving with his dad and brother to Zimbabwe. His dad was transitioning from an old teaching job in Tanzania to a brand new opportunity in Zimbabwe. On the surface, this moved looked like it was the best option, his dad was getting a new job and Charles would have the opportunity to learn and grow at a different school.
However, for Charles, Zimbabwe was a major adjustment.
"In Senegal, you literally shared a wall with your neighbor, and I was able to just go over my friends' house whenever I wanted because we were so close," he said.
Meanwhile, in Zimbabwe, the neighborhoods were more spread out. The yard at his new house was huge, and they had everything you could've imagined including a basketball court and a pool. But, while this may be a dream for some kids, Charles valued the tight-knit community and environment that Senegal offered much more than these new amenities.
Nevertheless, Charles was forced to adjust, as Zimbabwe would be the country that he would spend his high school years. Here, Charles really had to figure out who he wanted to be, and what the next steps would be in his life despite the circumstances.
FINDING HIS PATH IN HIGH SCHOOL
For the most part, high school was fairly normal for Charles. He was a three-sport athlete playing volleyball, basketball, and of course soccer. However, despite the success fans have seen Charles have with the Endicott men's soccer program over the last two years, he was not as committed to the game early on in his high school career as one would assume.
In his freshman and sophomore years, while Charles still played soccer for fun, he did not make his high school soccer team, which Charles' father was the coach of. While this might have been awkward, Charles didn't take it to heart.
"He was pretty tough on me, but I looked at it realistically," he said. "I was leaning more towards basketball, so when the basketball season would end, I would still end up training with my basketball friends instead of playing soccer."
That mindset got altered when his older brother began to have success in the sport of soccer.
Growing up, Charles always looked up to his brother and even though they are a few years apart they've always had a close relationship. This is why when his brother got accepted to Episcopal High School in Virginia it was really hard on him.
"He begged my dad to go," Charles said. "His dream was to be able to go to the United States and play soccer."
Charles lost someone who was close to him and being able to talk to Dominique while he was in the States wasn't easy. Charles would have to set up a Skype account, and even then their conversations were few and far between.
Even though it was a challenge for him, Charles used it as motivation to ramp up his soccer career because it was his dream to follow in his brother's footsteps and play soccer in the States as well.
Using that newfound energy Charles tired to replicate his brother's path by applying to Episcopal.
In the end, his grades were not good enough and he was not accepted.
This setback for Charles was a little bit more difficult for him when compared to not making his high school team, but he leaned on his brother for help.
"He told me when one door closes another one opens," said Charles. Little did he know that another door, or two, would soon lead him to The Nest.
WHEN ONE DOOR CLOSES...
When Charles began looking for that next door, he was not in love with the idea of going to college, so he had another talk with his brother.
Dominique talked to him about looking into a gap year, which typically is a break taken by a student between secondary school and higher education. At the time, Charles had no idea what a gap year was but he looked into it anyway, and that research led him to Bridgeton Academy, which is located in North Bridgeton, Maine.
Before committing to Bridgeton, Charles visited the school, in the middle of what would be his first of many snowstorms in the United States. His brother, now playing professional soccer with The Colorado Rapids, had two days off from his preseason camp, so he flew into New York to meet Charles.
From there, they hopped in a car and drove all the way up to Maine.
In just 48 hours from when Charles landed in New York to when he flew back to Senegal, he crossed several states through his travels, had an interview with Bridgton Academy's admissions team, and went on a tour of the academy. The trip was worth it as he was accepted to Bridgton Academy well before he even left campus.
Starting in August of 2016, he would spend the next year of his life in Bridgeton, Maine. It was something new and different and took some time to adjust to the fact that he was at an all-boys boarding school.
Once he got over the fact that he was in the middle of nowhere, he made life-long friends which gave him some semblance of life similar to being back home.
Charles gives Bridgeton a lot of the credit for where he is today, he had a chance to both improve his game on the field, but, more importantly, improve his performance off the field as well.
Once he finished that year he felt he was ready to make the jump.
MAKING THE JUMP
He visited a couple of Division II and Division III schools, but ultimately fell in love with Endicott. He loved the campus and he also got the sense of Endicott's well-known close-knit community that immediately reminded him what life was like back home.
It didn't hurt that the coaching staff liked what they saw as well.
"Charles' Bridgton Academy coach (Craig Wilkinson) highly recommended we recruit Charles to play for us at Endicott. He felt he was going under the recruiting radar because Charles began playing organized soccer at an older age than most kids," said Endicott men's soccer head coach Joe Calabrese. "After watching Charles play we realized his sheer athleticism could make him a great fit at our level. During his visits to Endicott, our coaching staff realized quickly Charles would make our soccer program and our community a better place because of his congenial and light-hearted personality."
Coach Calabrese's evaluation of Charles was spot on.
"He's taken his game to another level as a sophomore," he said. "He's one of the top center backs in the Commonwealth Coast Conference (CCC). He's strong in the air defensively, a tough as nails 1v1 tackler of the ball, plays excellent entry passes to our forward's feet and hits long diagonal passes to the wingers from the backline position."
Through just a season and a half with the men's soccer program Charles has started in 25 out of his 29 appearances playing both right back and center back for the Gulls. In those games, with the help of Charles' play, Endicott has an 18-10-4 (.625) overall record. The Gulls have made one CCC Tournament semifinals appearance and will, hopefully, at least make a quarterfinals appearance this year due to their current 3-1-2 CCC mark.
While he's on campus not playing in games, you can find Charles hanging with the soccer guys, who have become his second family, or working diligently towards earning his Bachelor of Science in Communication. And if he sees someone with anything Bridgeton on he'll stop you and ask about your experience and what led you from Northern Maine to Beverly, Mass.
He likes to keep his circle small but loves his home and close-knit community on the North Shore, somewhere he never thought he'd end up.
Beyond his life at Endicott, Charles still goes back to Senegal anytime he can like over winter break and during the summer. Charles still tries to talk to his parents every day or every other day and talks with his brother as much as possible. They talk about how both their seasons are going and Charles will continue to ask his brother for advice when he needs it just as he did growing up.
As for his next game, you can find Charles and his teammates on the field in their final home contest of the regular season on October 23 versus Western New England at 7 PM.
If you take away anything from this story just remember that everyone's path to Endicott is different, but you are all here for the same reason: to grow in life as members of the Endicott family.
(Photo Credit - David Le '10)