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Nazeem Bartman had quite a journey to become USF’s leading scorer

Junior forward Nazeem Bartman, who transferred to USF in the offseason from Tyler (Texas) Junior College, has a team-high five goals this season. ORACLE PHOTO/ADAM MATHIEU

Nazeem Bartman left his home, family and life in South Africa in pursuit of his dream to become a professional soccer player.

But when he touched down in the U.S., the junior forward had no money and no way to contact his family — not even to tell them his plane had landed safely.

“The hardest part of moving was getting in contact with my family,” Bartman said. “When I came to America, I didn’t have any cellphone or anything and no money. I had to save up money to try and buy a phone or anything I could use just to talk to my parents.”

Bartman has lived away from his home for most of his life since age 12, bouncing around to different club teams in his home country and sometimes seeing his family for only a week or two out of the year.

All of these struggles forced him to adapt and learn to overcome the obstacles he faced.

Now at USF, the skill of adapting has eased his transformation from a simple junior college transfer to the leading scorer on the nation’s No. 12-ranked team.

“It’s always hard to adjust to a new system, new environment and new school,” Bartman said. “To be honest, in the spring when I came in, it was hard to adapt compared to Tyler Junior College (TJC) in Texas, but it’s all a process — it takes time.”

When Bartman arrived on campus, adjusting to its size was his first challenge. Then came the task of managing what little time he had.

“(I) don’t have as much time on (my) hands as I normally had,” Bartman said. “That was one thing that was challenging for me, and those things that affected me off the field played a big role in my performance on the field. I wasn’t playing well in the spring. I managed to adapt to it and balance it out.”

As the year progressed, so did Bartman’s play. 

He scored his first goal against Georgia Southern on Sept. 11. After that, finding the back of the net started to come easily to him, especially in crunch time. In Bartman’s five goals this season, four have been game-winners.

But one goal against rival Connecticut on Sept. 26 remains at the forefront of his mind nearly a month later.

“I don’t remember how the play started,” Bartman said, “but Marcus (Epps) had the ball to the right side and I tried to support him underneath but he chipped it over to Melvin (Becket). 

“Something Melvin and I have been working on a lot on … was how to create plays, and Melvin saw me running behind the defense and he slipped the ball and I scored.

Soccer is a physical game. Many American soccer players pull, grab, and jostle for position, which makes it tough for foreign players to find success. For Bartman, his transition through TJC made the adjustment quick and easy.

“I think I have a good mix of both (finesse and toughness),” Bartman said. “That’s why I think going to TJC was a big help for me. They were a very physical team and they make you tough over there. That was a big help for me transitioning into Division I to get used to being pulled, being grabbed and things like that.”

It was at TJC that Bartman caught the eye of Bulls coach George Kiefer, who said he isn’t shocked by Bartman’s immediate success.

“When we first saw him a couple of years ago, we thought he was going to be one of the better forwards in the country,” Kiefer said. “We’re very happy with what’s he’s been doing, but not at all surprised.”

Kiefer said he sees the potential in Bartman — his technical skills, toughness and above-average work ethic — and leans on him a bit harder than other players.

“I’m probably tougher on him because I expect more from him,” Kiefer said. “Sometimes, I go after him a little bit more than other guys because I know he can handle it.”

Bartman, a player mature beyond his years in the eyes of Kiefer, remembers his life back home and the experiences that have molded him into the player fans see today. One of his most cherished experiences was being able to attend two matches during the 2010 World Cup in his home country.

“I can’t even explain the environment,” Bartman said. “Everything that was going on over there was just crazy and packed.”

Bartman said seeing the different cultures of fans gave him a better appreciation for the game.

“My mom was helping out with a Brazilian festive thing where all of the Brazilian fans came and watched the Brazil games,” Bartman said. “It was great to see that type of environment and the way they were so passionate about soccer. It was an amazing experience.”

With everything he’s been through, Bartman knows he would not have gotten to this point without the people that helped nudged him along. A humble player, Bartman just wants to keep playing and keep winning as long as he can.

“I’m not someone to brag about my accomplishments,” Bartman said. “I won’t get anything or achieve anything without the help of Allah … and my teammates and the coaching staff. 

“All the credit goes to them, and whatever I achieve is a bonus for me and the bonus for the team.”