SANTA BARBARA - Lars Bardenhagen has come a long way in a short time.
In August of 2018, the Hamburg, Germany native walked into SBCC football coach Craig Moropoulos' office and announced that he wanted to play football. He'd never stepped on the gridiron, his only experience was watching football for a few years on TV.
Last Thursday, Bardenhagen signed a letter-of-intent to play football for William Jewell College, an NCAA Div. 2 school in Liberty, Missouri. The signing took place in a Zoom online meeting that included his parents, Angela and JB, from Germany.
From Hamburg to Santa Barbara to an NCAA scholarship in Liberty, Mo., in less than two years. That's quite an achievement.
"I'd never played football before," said Bardenhagen. "One of my first days on campus, I walked into Coach Morop's office and I was pretty straightforward, asking if there was any way I could sign up for the team. He asked what position I played and I told him I'd never played football.
"He told me if you come to spring workouts and put your heart into it and work with us, then we can see what we can do with you. From there on, it's been a pretty amazing journey."
Bardenhagen played wide receiver and special teams in his first season in 2018. For his sophomore year, he switched to defensive back. He appeared in all 10 games last year as a safety and on special teams.
In his first game as a defensive back, he intercepted a pass late in the second quarter during a 57-6 win over Compton in the 2019 season opener.
"It's been an amazing experience playing on the team and going to school here," he said. "I've never had so much fun in school."
Bardenhagen is a top-notch student with a 3.67 GPA as a Marketing and Business major. He was a top-10 SCFA Scholar-Athlete and made the SBCC Honor Roll.
"When I got my first NAIA offer, I was blown away because I'd only been in this for two years," said Bardenhagen. "Then more offers came in and William Jewell was the first Div. 2 to contact me. I'm so excited to start playing there."
Moropoulos said Bardenhagen was willing to do anything and play anywhere just to get on the field.
"If there was a way to get on the field -- special teams, anything -- if we asked him to run out and mess around with the ref and throw his flag on the ground, he'd have done it for us," said Moropoulos. "That's the best thing about Lars. From the day he came into my office and said he's never played before. That doesn't usually work out and rarely ends up like this.
"At that point, I didn't know Lars and I didn't know his supreme work ethic. He went home last summer and managed to gain 40 pounds of solid weight. I was very impressed with that. My No. 1 thing about Lars is his willingness to do whatever is asked.
"I just want to make sure Lars understands what a great and supreme sacrifice his folks made to support him. We all know it's not cheap to come in as an international student at SBCC. They're always positive and they watched every game on live stream. They also came all the way out here to watch him play. They must be real proud of what you've accomplished."
Bardenhagen's parents said it wasn't easy to see their son travel more than 5,500 miles to attend college in Santa Barbara.
"It was very hard for my wife to let him go but he had this dream and he worked so hard for it every day," said Lars' father, JB. "Every day, he gets closer to his dream. He played other sports like karate and soccer but his ultimate goal was to play football."
Bardenhagen is one of 10 Vaqueros from the 2019 team who've committed to four-year schools:
- Lars Bardenhagen, DB, William Jewell College (Liberty, Mo.)
- Sage Sobrado, OL, Southeast Missouri State
- Nate Morrow, OL, Houston Baptist
- Sidney Luna-Long, WR, Jamestown (N.D.)
- Scotty Forbes, QB, Christopher Newport Univ. (Va.)
- Jordan Francis, DB, Eastern New Mexico
- Isiah Rodgers, DB, Eastern New Mexico
- Nazir Hopson, DB, West Liberty (West Virginia)
- Colton Takis, OL, Keiser Univ. (Fla.)
- Ben Dixon, WR, UNLV
(Dave Loveton, Santa Barbara City College Athletics)