Between his pair of distinct, bright green cleats with a black Nike logo and the long, slender legs that accompany his 6-foot-3-inch frame, Cal State Fullerton men’s soccer forward Bassirou “Bass” Sarr is always easy to spot in Titan Stadium.
Sarr almost didn’t make it there, as countless roadblocks ranging from being sent out of the country to abuse nearly kept him from playing soccer.
Born in Senegal, Africa, Sarr began playing soccer around the age of three after his grandmother bought him his first set of equipment. During his childhood, soccer was just a game, a way to pass the hours. Sarr didn’t know that one day, the ball at his feet would serve as his purpose.
Soon after, Sarr moved to New York when his parents decided the United States would offer better opportunities for their children. Five years later, Sarr’s father felt he was too focused on soccer. To remind him of his roots and not to lose sight of why the family moved to New York in the first place, Sarr’s father sent him back to Senegal.
While Sarr didn’t want to go, he said the experience motivated him to help the country and its people.
“The people over there are struggling. They eat once a day … Then you come back here and it motivates you to be better. You want to go back and help them,” Sarr said. “That’s why I’m here to hustle hard every single game. Every single day, I think about it.”
While Sarr was in Senegal, his older brother Babacar, continued to buy him soccer gear so he could keep playing.
“My brother never played because of my dad, so he would tell me ‘You’re the only one we have left,’” Sarr said. “He would tell me ‘You have to make an impact. You have to prove yourself and just stay with it.’”
Babacar’s support helped Sarr flourish on the field, and when he returned to the United States, he wanted to continue to improve his game.
His father had other plans.
“My dad never liked me playing soccer. Any time I went out to play soccer and I came back, he’d hit me,” Sarr said. “But he didn’t know the love I have for soccer and the passion I have. It was emotional.”
Sarr didn’t give up, and continued to battle with his father over his future. Torn between pleasing a parent and fulfilling his dreams, Sarr tried to offer a compromise to balance school and soccer.
“When I came back when I was 15, I told him ‘If you let me play soccer, I’ll do both,’ but he still didn’t want me to be on the field for extra time,” Sarr said. “It was hard for him to understand how I really felt about the game.”
Despite showing his father all of his accolades and achievements, he had no interest in supporting his son.
Night after night, beating after beating, Sarr said he would go to his room with tear-filled eyes thinking that the one supporter he needed to fulfill his dream would never open his mind to help him.
The Titans forward said his father was so desperate to make sure his son didn’t commit to soccer that he would say playing the game went against their religion.
“He knew that we took our religion seriously, so when you hear that, you know you don’t want to do something that isn’t accepted in your religion,” Sarr said.
He read the Quran in search of answers about why his one passion was something that could tear him away from his faith. When he didn’t find anything, Sarr discovered the true reason why his father was fighting his dream at every turn.
“I had a sit down with him, and he told me ‘It’s not about religion. I don’t want you guys to focus more on soccer than on school.’ He really wanted us to get a diploma, but at the end of the day we know what we want, and you have to do what you love to do,” Sarr said.
For two years after he returned to New York, Sarr and his father only had a hi-and-bye relationship. It wasn’t until he heard his son’s name broadcasted on the radio that things finally began to shift.
“He would say ‘You’re really good at soccer, huh? I heard your name on the radio,’ and I’m like ‘Great, now you realize that I was good,’” Sarr said. “I used to work like once a day, but as soon as I knew that he knew how good I am, I started working twice a day.”
Sarr’s father agreed to let him join a collegiate team after he told his father going to a Division III college would be easy for him.
Sarr chose Buffalo State as his first entry into college soccer for its smaller, close-knit team.
“My dad was very happy … It was a lot of competition, and people expected a lot from me,” Sarr said. “My sophomore year, my dad told me ‘This is the year you have to prove yourself more. I want you to score more goals,’ and that motivated me a lot.”
While Sarr was able to break down the walls between himself and his father, he still had to focus on his religion, something that remained important to his family.
Though he stayed true to his prayers and practices, things became difficult for Sarr during Ramadan because he had to train rigorously without eating.
Again, his father’s newfound support shone through.
“They hired a special trainer for me during Ramadan,” Sarr said. “I started training once a day, twice a day before school started.”
The training served its purpose as Sarr set records at Buffalo State, earning 19 goals in just two seasons, the most in the university’s history.
Despite his many achievements at Buffalo State, Sarr wanted more, and a coach in the west felt Sarr could fill a missing link on his team.
Titans Head Coach George Kuntz was introduced to Sarr after another assistant coach heard of his accolades compiled at Buffalo State. After seeing highlight videos of Sarr, CSUF made its offer.
“We needed a presence up top,” Kuntz said. “It’s hard to find all three qualities: Speed, the ability to finish and the size factor to occupy center backs, and he brought all three things to the table.”
Sarr felt going coast to coast would allow him to grow and improve as both a person and a soccer player, but even before he chose to join CSUF, Sarr faced another road block: People telling him he wasn’t going to be able to shine on the Titans’ crowded roster.
“People would tell me ‘You’re not going to like it. They’re not going to treat you like we do. Look how many people are on the team,’” Sarr said. “And I said, ‘Well if I don’t like it, I’m going to learn to love it.’”
Sarr packed up and joined the Titans two weeks before preseason started.
When he arrived in California, Sarr said he was immediately happy with his decision to move on from Division III athletics.
Sarr’s fast friendship with roommate and fellow Titans defender Daniel Adoo contributed greatly to his love for California.
“The minute I saw him was the first time I knew this guy isn’t from the United States,” Adoo said. “We don’t feel that much distance from each other since we’re from the same region in Africa. We got along right away, and he’s also Muslim.”
Sarr’s relationship with Adoo allowed him to maintain his religious promises, as they are the only two players on the men’s team who are Muslim.
“We keep each other accountable for our prayers and all of that,” Adoo said. “It was pretty much a perfect fit, and I was hoping that would happen.”
While it took Sarr’s father a while to finally accept that his son might have a promising future in soccer, his continued commitment to his faith has brought them closer than ever.
Today, Sarr’s father is the one person he has to call each and every game as a reminder of why he’s working so hard to hit his goals.
“Every single game before I go out, I have to call him and my mom to pray for me, pray for my team,” Sarr said. “He didn’t have the opportunity to go to school, he didn’t have the money … But he’s the reason why I’m working hard.”
The strength of that relationship has helped give Sarr the confidence to set new goals for himself and find a new home in California.
“It’s not just a team. It’s not like a thing where you come to play for fun, it’s more like a family,” Sarr said. “The way that I’m feeling here right now, I’m feeling more comfortable than ever.”