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Buffalo State soccer's Theo Pencic feels at home even 3,700 miles away


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Soccer, or football, depending on where you're from, is a global sport. It brings people together from all over the world, including one player who has found a new home right here at Buffalo State.

Theo Pencic, a freshman from Oslo, Norway, and leading scorer for the Bengals' men's soccer team, began playing soccer at the age of six. By age 10, Pencic joined the Norwegian Football Academy and competed in tournaments all over Europe. Toward the end of his time at Heltberg High School in Norway, he started to notice a trend – many players were leaving for the United States to continue their careers while pursuing an American education.

Pencic took a year off after high school to examine all of his options. He worked, played soccer and kept in touch with classmates who had already left Norway for the United States. After hearing how much they enjoyed it, Pencic began to look into the move and ultimately found his way to Buffalo State in January of 2018. The transition to a new country was relatively seamless, as Pencic's previous travels prepared him for what to expect.

"My grandma lives in Chicago, so I've been to the United States a lot actually. I kind of know how people are and I know the environment. It was not a big issue to come over here," Pencic said.

The true challenge came in the fall.

"The hardest part has been combining school with soccer. This is the first semester that I've actually done it because I came in January and there was no soccer. I was just focused on school. It was kind of challenging at the start, but I've gotten used to it," Pencic said.

Another challenge has been the increased number of games played in a season. Back in Norway, they only played games once a week and players had a lot more time to recover.
"It's a lot on your body to play back to back Friday and Saturday every week, so you have to be in better shape to do it. You have to take care of your body," Pencic said.

The Norwegian with a knack for the net has handled the combination flawlessly. The freshman leads the Bengals in goals with 11, despite missing five games due to injury. He attributes a lot of his success on the field to his current living situation.  Pencic rents an upper unit apartment from a University at Buffalo professor who also hails from Norway and has formed a bond with the professor and his family.

"I'm very lucky. It's like I have a new family. I feel safe and I don't miss home as much because I have another family here," Pencic said.

Pencic was not always certain soccer would play such an important role is shaping his path, however.  There was a time not too long ago when Pencic needed to take some time away from the pitch to discover why he was playing.

"In high school I took four months off of soccer because I was a bit tired of it. In that part of my life when I was about 17, I kind of really had to think about what I wanted to do and whether soccer was something for me or not. So, I took those months off and really missed it, and that's when I knew I really needed to play soccer. I think that time off was good for me, it made me realize how much I need soccer in my life," Pencic said.

The young forward is grateful for that time away from the game and what it taught him and the doors it has opened for him. Going away to college in the United States and playing soccer is a great achievement for Pencic and his family.

"It means a lot. It's a great opportunity, I didn't think that much of school when I was in high school, I just focused on my soccer. Now I'm happier going to school because I can study subjects I really want to take, and I do better in school," Pencic said.

Pencic is thriving in Buffalo, posting a 3.00 GPA in his first semester, scoring 11 goals in his first 12 games, and he has even grown accustomed to American cuisine as well.

"I really like Chipotle.  That's my favorite. We kind of have the same concept back in Norway but here it is much better and bigger. And of course, the American burger, I go to Coles a lot and get their burgers," Pencic said.

Pencic and the No. 5 seed Bengals now prepare for the SUNYAC playoffs for the fourth-consecutive season. The team will travel to Oneonta for a quarterfinal matchup this Saturday at 1 p.m.

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