The Oklahoman

A GAME-CHANGER

CCS’s Bai Jobe journey from Africa led him to a future in a new sport in Oklahoma

- James D. Jackson

Whenever Jobe makes a tackle or sack, it’s not hard to notice the flag of Senegal stuck to the left side of his helmet.

NORMAN — Bai Jobe stands out on the football field.

Sure, the 6-foot-5, 210-pound athlete is easy to spot standing next to his high school teammates. But his uniform also sets him apart.

Everyone on the team wears a white helmet with the purple and gold Community Christian School logo on the right side. But wherever Jobe makes a tackle or sack, like the one he made Friday night against Crossings Christian, it’s not hard to notice the bright red, green and yellow flag of Senegal stuck to the left side of his helmet.

“They haven’t said anything to me about it,” Jobe said with a smile, “so I just keep it on

there.”

It’s a reminder of home.

Jobe moved from Africa to America for a better education and a chance to play basketball in an organized setting for the first time. The change has brought many challenges most wouldn’t be able to handle. He’s had to battle through a language barrier, cultural difference­s and the untimely death of his biological mother thousands of miles away.

But in just three years, Jobe has learned his third language, a sport he never imagined he’d be playing and has become one of the top football prospects in the nation while doing it.

ESPN calls him a four-star prospect, and scholarshi­p offers already have come from Oklahoma State University, Iowa State and many others.

“It’s just weird the way life leads you,” said Jim Bond, Jobe’s guardian-father. “It’s been kind of like a dream. It’s just funny how life … a leaf falls and how the wind takes it. You just make a decision and things happen.”

Starting the process

Jim and Sue Bond have homeschool­ed their five biological kids through the years, but because both Jim and Sue played college basketball at Oklahoma Christian University, they kept their kids active in the sport.

They came to know a few coaches through homeschool teams, including Kurt Talbott, with the OKC Storm.

“We’re always getting videos and things like that of kids,” said Talbott, whose teams have won numerous national homeschool championsh­ips. “People contact us to bring kids over, bring kids in.”

Jobe’s family was among those who reached out. They sent videos of Jobe playing pick-up basketball on dirt playground­s with bent empty-net rims. At 14, Jobe was jumping over kids and dunking on NBA-size 10-foot goals.

Talbott liked what he saw, especially Jobe’s athleticis­m and body type. But as a homeschool team, the Storm is not able to bring in internatio­nal students without I-20 visas, a document that allows them to study in America. Students can only receive the visas from certain schools approved by the federal government.

So Talbott approached Jim and told him about Jobe, “a kid who looks pretty amazing and what he’s doing at 14 years old.”

The Bonds were not strangers to housing internatio­nal students. Both grew up in small-town Oklahoma, Jim in Stroud, Sue in Watonga, but after a trip to Japan as college exchange students, their eyes and hearts were opened to helping others in far-away places.

“All of a sudden, your heart strings are like, ‘Oh, we might be able to help this kid,’” Jim said of welcoming another internatio­nal student into their home. “‘Shouldn’t we do that?’”

Coming to America

The Bond family discussed hosting Jobe — whose name is pronounced “Bye JO-buh” — for a couple of months before ultimately deciding to give it a go.

In November 2018, Jobe’s plane touched down in Oklahoma.

“I came in November, and I was cold, cold, cold,” Jobe said, smiling. “I was saying, ‘Wow, I’m going to die.’ I (had) never seen snow before until I came here. And the weather in November is really windy. It was crazy to me.”

It took Jobe, then in eighth grade, about a month to get used to the weather and the food.

“When I first came, I was just eating potato chips and ketchup,” Jobe said, “because I just didn’t know the food.”

But just as he started to get more comfortabl­e, his biological mother, Ndeye Jallow, died from cancer back in Senegal. Being Muslim, Ndeye was buried within 12 hours after her death.

Jobe wasn’t able to travel home to see her.

“They did live stream it for him,” said Sue, Jobe’s guardian-mother. “My husband stayed up with him because of the time difference and just held him.”

Jobe’s biological father, Lamin Jobe, told the Bonds to just make sure his son gets a good education. The Bond family already was willing to do that, but now, they were even more determined.

Sue told Bai, “That’s my job as Mama Sue — make sure you’re a good man. Your mama has raised you to this point, and I’m going to make sure to finish it out and make you a good man.”

But if Jobe was going to get the best education in America, he was going to need to close the language gap. He could speak his native language, Wolof, and even French, but he severely lacked English. The Bonds enlisted the help of a retired AP English teacher.

Three years later, the results are noticeable.

“Just been working hard,” Jobe said of the level of English he speaks now. “In the beginning, I was getting mad, and I would say, ‘This is too much.’ But I don’t regret it because all they want is the best for me. I really appreciate that.”

Before his arrival, the Bonds had scoured the Norman area for Student and Exchange Visitor Program certified schools. Community Christian School was one of the few with an internatio­nal program.

When Mat McIntosh, the CCS athletic director and head football coach, met Jobe, he was impressed with everything about the eighth-grader, including his intelligen­ce and grasp on multiple languages.

But Jobe’s athleticis­m was impressive, too.

“When we met him and talked … we figured he’d be a basketball player,” McIntosh said of the 6-foot-3 middle schooler. “But almost from day one after he got in our school, me and a couple of the other guys, we began immediatel­y telling him he should give football a try sometime.”

Jobe didn’t have any aspiration­s to play football. He saw how rough it was

“I came in November, and I was cold, cold, cold. I (had) never seen snow before until I came here.”

Bai Jobe

Community Christian basketball and football player from Senegal

and didn’t want to risk an injury that could jeopardize his basketball chances. So he turned down the coach’s request every time.

Then came a night that changed his life.

“It was a crazy story, man,” Jobe said, shaking his head with a grin. “It was a crazy story.”

Going to the gridiron

On Sept 18, 2020, Jim, who is a sports-injury doctor, had a shift working the Norman-Mustang football game. He asked Jobe to tag along.

As Jobe stood on the sidelines, he felt the energy of the crowd and was immediatel­y hooked.

“It was hyping everywhere,” Jobe said, throwing his arms in the air. “Everywhere people were yelling, and I like the hype. I really enjoy it, and I was saying, ‘Wow.’”

Jobe watched as Norman High receiver Jaden Bray, now at OSU, made highlight catches and amazing plays. Jobe and Bray had occasional­ly played pick-up basketball together in Norman

“He’s not better than me on the basketball (court), so why wouldn’t I do that?” Jobe said with a smile of trying football. “If he’s not better than me in basketball and he’s not getting hurt in football, I can play without getting hurt.”

On the car ride home, Jobe looked over to Jim.

“Dad, do you think I can play football?” Jobe asked.

“Absolutely,” Jim said. “But I don’t think you can play now because the season has already started.”

“The coaches told me I could come anytime I want,” Jobe said.

The next day, Jim called McIntosh. Two days later, Jobe, who didn’t even know the distance of a yard, ran out for his first football practice.

Jobe told his biological father about his decision and sent him pictures of American football.

“Why do you want to do that?” Lamin asked Jobe. “That’s crazy. It’s like rugby!”

Jobe went through obvious growing pains with football, learning how to tackle and how to catch.

“It was tough trying to learn everything,” Jobe said. “In the beginning, I didn’t really like it, to be honest. I was saying, ‘I don’t think I can do this. I’m going to stay with basketball.’”

There’s a good chance Jobe would have quit. But Community Christian has a school policy that if an athlete quits a sport in the middle of the season for any reason, they cannot go on to the next sport until the sport they quit finishes.

So Jobe stuck it out.

His first few games weren’t great, but in his fourth game, he recorded nine tackles, including three for loss, to go along with 24-yard fumble and 40yard touchdown intercepti­on returns in Community Christian’s 27-7 win over Bethel.

Jobe was named The Oklahoman’s staff pick Player of the Week for his performanc­e.

“That one, I enjoyed after I got my touchdowns and started getting some sacks,” he said. “I was hype.”

So were college recruiters. Jobe, whose raw speed and athleticis­m sets him apart, began to receive college scholarshi­p offers and planned to attend 7-on-7 camps to learn more about football.

A year later, Jobe is a junior at Community Christian School and one of the hottest recruits in the state. On Wednesday, the first day college coaches could call or text high school juniors, Jobe woke up to multiple text messages.

“I never dreamed he’d be a football player,” Talbott, the Storm coach, said laughing. “Whenever he was talking to me he was like, ‘I want to be like Russell Westbrook.’”

Jobe remains a great basketball player. He helped lead CCS to the Class 3A state tournament last year, but football, a sport he’d never imagined playing when he crossed the ocean, is now his future. His route to a better education has changed.

Just like a lot of things in his life. Jobe has moved on from the chipsand-ketchup diet. His favorite food now is a double cheeseburg­er and french fries from McDonald’s. He’s moved on from the playground-style sports he played in Senegal, too, now playing on hardwood floors and turf football fields.

Bai Jobe has even changed his thinking about his favorite sport.

“Hmm, it was (basketball), but I like football,” he said. “It’s cool to play football.”

 ?? SARAH PHIPPS/THE OKLAHOMAN ?? Community Christian School’s Bai Jobe has a red, green and yellow flag of Senegal stuck to the left side of his helmet.
SARAH PHIPPS/THE OKLAHOMAN Community Christian School’s Bai Jobe has a red, green and yellow flag of Senegal stuck to the left side of his helmet.
 ?? BRYAN TERRY/THE OKLAHOMAN ?? Community Christian’s Bai Jobe, left, is fouled by Eufaula’s Jacob Fitzer during a Class 3A boys state tournament quarterfinal game between Community Christian and Eufaula in Yukon March 11.
BRYAN TERRY/THE OKLAHOMAN Community Christian’s Bai Jobe, left, is fouled by Eufaula’s Jacob Fitzer during a Class 3A boys state tournament quarterfinal game between Community Christian and Eufaula in Yukon March 11.

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