QUINCY -- A taste of home is all Jonathan Deck craved.
Bob and Lisa Cowman wanted to provide it, but they didn't know how. So Deck showed them.
Deck is a John Wood Community College freshman soccer player from Germany who stayed with the Cowmans when he first arrived in the United States, and he prepared one of his favorite meals -- schnitzel -- with Lisa's help for a family dinner. She's since prepared it for Deck and provided a little comfort of home to ease the culture shock he and so many other foreign-born players experience.
"They love to do things together in the kitchen," said Bob Cowman, the JWCC head coach. "You learn the experience is not all about soccer. It's about so much more."
It's about building relationships.
"They made me feel like an adopted son," Deck said. "They are now my American family."
That includes his teammates, too, especially those from Quincy who have embraced their new teammates and introduced them to the community. The Trail Blazers, in the first season of the program' rebirth, have 10 players from Quincy to go along with seven foreign-born players.
"Outside of the field, we go places together," Deck aid. "We go to a game, we sit together and just have fun."
Such a scenario is taking place throughout the area where an international flavor is influencing the college game.
Quincy Univerity has 14 international players on its roster, 11 of whom are freshmen, from 10 different countries. Culver-Stockton College has 19 international players from nine different countries on a 28-player roster.
Eighteen countries in all are represented.
"It's not necessarily something where we sit down and say we need to get more international players," QU coach Mike Carpenter said. "You never know how it's going to play out class by class and what will present itself. We were presented some very good options for bringing in the international guys that we did. All the pieces fit properly."
No traditional recruiting
Multiple hurdles must be cleared to make that happen.
The first is recruiting.
Unlike the traditional recruiting method of watching players in person, evaluating talent and building face-to-face relationships, coaches have to get more creative. They watch video, use Skype or other video conferencing technology to communicate with recruits, and they rely on coaches and scouts for additional information and evaluation.
"We've gone overseas to look at players in person, but to say we can make a trip for every player we're potentially going to bring in, that would be unrealistic for any institution," Carpenter said. "So you have a little bit of a gamble to take there."
What schools cannot gamble with is eligibility.
International players must obtain a student visa to be allowed to attend school in the United states. Beyond that, there are transcript and equivalency concerns. The core classes and the core grade point average most colleges require an incoming student to have don't always correlate with the classes and grades a student-athlete has received overseas.
Amateurism is part of it, too. Many international players have played in what might be considered a professional league in their home country, which could impact their amateur status and ability to play in the United States. The NCAA Clearinghouse is requiring more documentation and a few additional steps before ruling a student-athlete eligible.
QU had no issues getting its players cleared this season.
"I guess we're getting better at it," Carpenter said.
The NAIA and the NJCAA have taken additional strides to ensure all international players are eligible.
"The school does a great job making sure every player has their paperwork and their eligibility in line," C-SC coach Blake Ordell said.
The players do their own background checks and research on the programs and schools they might attend.
"You try to do research," said JWCC freshman Ridge Reyneke, who is from Cape Town, South Africa. "Mostly, I tried to do research on the soccer side, but of course, with this being a first-year program, there wasn't much you could find out. Academics-wise, I did my research and it sounded promising.
"The soccer sounded like an exciting opportunity to be a part of something new."
Looking for opportunities
An opportunity is what they all seek.
"I wanted to play professionally so I didn't go to school for almost two years," said QU freshman Eduardo Vivanco, who is from Ecuador. "But the offer to get an education was big. It was very important to my parents."
He embraced the idea of leaving home and going through culture shock to make that happen.
"Being able to travel because of soccer is amazing," Vivanco said. "It makes everyone proud back home."
Being away from home is a challenge of its own.
QU freshman forward Hayden Tucker, who is from Sydney, Australia, hasn't been home in almost 18 months and admits his age -- he's already 21 -- has helped him avoid any true homesickness. Still, he's excited to return to Australia during the Christmas break.
His brother is getting married in January, and he will attend the ceremony.
"It will be nice to go home and hit the beach," Tucker said. "It will be summer there, so I can't wait for that."
Every player has something about home they miss more than anything else.
"I miss the mountains because where I'm from there are lots of mountains," Deck said. "I like the river and bridge here because it's interesting to look at. I like the people. Everyone is so nice to me. I appreciate that."
And they appreciate they have each other to lean on.
"One-hundred percent," Tucker said. "It gives you people you can relate to. They feel what it is like to be away from home where everything is different, from the setup of places to the food to how the soccer is played. You go through it together."
They learn from those who have gone through it.
C-SC junior midfielder Luke Blackburn, who is from England, is in his third season as a starter, while sophomore midfielder William Mansfield is second on the team with five goals this season and has 10 career goals. Their ability to help incoming international players adjust to life in Canton, Mo., is critical.
The same can be said for Kyle Fraser, a QU senior forward from England.
"One of the massive things for me is I remember what it was like freshman year," Fraser said. "I know what it's like to be from a place far, far away. My time here has been fantastic. All the lessons I've learned over time here, I love being able to transfer to the younger guys and getting them involved.
"We want to get them through any shyness and have them just be themselves. They're a good group of chaps."
That's the overwhelming sentiment everywhere.
The international recruiting not only has brought talented soccer players to the area, but it has added quality individuals to each campus community.
"I felt very comfortable the second I got here," Reyneke said. "We're fortunate to come to place where the people are accepting of new people and people who are experiencing this for the first time. This is an amazing opportunity and experience."