Pencic is a natural leader, on the pitch and off

Jason Guth, Sports Writer

When you think of where a student at Buffalo State College is from, your mind immediately goes to the obvious: Western New York. Specifically, one might think Erie County or Niagara County. From there, the next thought may be New York City, followed by the cohort of students from the remainder of New York state.

But at what point does Oslo, Norway, come to mind? Well, if you’re like me, it doesn’t.

That is where the story of Theo Pencic begins. A senior at Buffalo State College, Theo is a business administration major who is on track to graduate this December. A natural-born leader, he aspires to become an entrepreneur after graduation.

“I’m very motivated to start my life after college, so I am going back to Norway in December,” he said. “My plan is to start my own business. … but it might not be right away.”

The reason? Pencic – a Captain on the Men’s Soccer team at Buffalo State – is a lover of soccer, or football, for the purposes of this piece. He wants to enjoy his first love for as long as he can, playing semi-professionally before he enters the business world.

“I’m going to continue (playing football) when I go back home, and try to go second-division. Now I can make money,” he said with a laugh.

The half-Norwegian, half-Serbian has played the game since he was six years old, long before he would ever think of coming to Buffalo. Whether it was the many youth leagues, summer leagues or club teams, one thing was obvious: Pencic had a penchant for football.

And so, the international student decided that he would stick to football after he finished Norway’s version of high school, known as upper secondary school. As a result, he didn’t come to Buffalo State until he was on the precipice of 21, arriving here in time for the spring 2018 semester.

Because of his older age (relative to the traditional college freshman, of course), Pencic knew his options were limited if he wanted to play football in college. Thus, he turned to an educational agency in Norway to help him find a school in the U.S.

Said Pencic: “The agency sent my (football) videos around to schools, and since I took too many gap years, I could only go (NCAA) Division III. … that’s how I wound-up here.”

Fortunately for the Bengal program, Pencic has only grown since his arrival.

The 2018 season saw him net 11 goals in 13 games, to go along with one assist. 2019 bore witness to 14 goals and seven assists in 18 games. While the COVID-19 pandemic wiped last season away, the extra year of preparation has proven positive for Pencic: through 11 games (of 18), he has 11 goals and eight assists, on pace for the best season of his career.

But more importantly than the stat sheet, Pencic says the desire to lead – true to his entrepreneurial self – is what drives him most.

“On the field, I’m just trying to help the younger guys because I’ve been in their shoes before. They’re 18-year-olds, so I remember when I played at that age too, and how much you need to learn, and how much you depend on the older guys to help you out. That’s all I’m trying to do.”

Off the field, the 24-year-old Pencic has made the Dean’s list four semesters running. As such, he knows how important the educational journey is, sharing with his teammates the importance of maintaining a schedule that places their academic pursuits on the same level as their athletic ones.

And with 11 freshmen on the team, head coach Francesco Cardillo – once a Captain at Buffalo State himself – doesn’t take Pencic’s leadership for granted.

“He’s definitely helped them adjust to the life here, and our style and the way we do things,” Cardillo said. “He’s led by example, and I think that’s a role he has now taken on as a Captain. There’s a lot more demand and responsibility, and with that responsibility, he has grown.”

After all, growth and leadership are two traits evident in this non-traditional student-athlete, as he looks to a hopeful future in the business world after his playing days are over.

“It’s the entrepreneur in me, I’ve always been interested in it (leadership and business). We’ll see where it takes me.”