Dolapo Morakinyo thought his soccer career might be over.
Then Morakinyo's family moved from South Africa to Forsyth County and he enrolled at Denmark High School. That's when everything began to change.
And on Tuesday, Morakinyo guaranteed the next four years of his academic and athletic careers by signing to play soccer at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina.
"It means a lot, because coming from South Africa, I kind of gave up on the dream to play soccer because there weren't many opportunities there," Morakinyo said. "Coming to America, everything just changed for me. To finally have this day and make it official is just everything I've wanted."
Morakinyo is one of five Denmark seniors who signed their National Letter of Intent on Tuesday, joining teammate Newsha Mirfendereski [Gardner-Webb], Joseph Scott [basketball, Xavier University of Louisiana], Kelsey Sowa [lacrosse, Reinhardt University] and CJ Woodruff [swimming, Emmanuel College].
It was fitting that Morakinyo and Mirfendereski signed together after the two became close friends over the past 15 months.
"I have nothing but respect for him," Mirfendereski said. "When he first came here, he was very shy and didn't know anybody and didn't talk. I saw him and welcomed him with open arms. He's very good friends with me now — one of my closest friends."
Morakinyo, who is from Durban, South Africa, along the country's east coast, moved to the United States in January 2020. He was forced to the sidelines during the early stages of the 2020 season while his eligibility was sorted out.
During that time, Morakinyo remained patient and continued working hard in practice for when it was his chance to play.
That came March 3, 2020, when Morakinyo provided the game-winning goal in a 2-1 win against Blessed Trinity.
"It's been amazing. My friend over there, Newsha Mirfendereski, he's been my best friend since day one," Morakinyo said. "He helped me with everything. He introduced me to the team. My relationship with everyone just grew. It's just amazing."
Morakinyo had two goals Saturday for a Denmark team that punched its ticket to the Class 7A playoffs and can host a first-round playoff game with a win against South Forsyth on Wednesday.
"Just watching him gain more and more minutes and be more and more part of the team, it's been great to watch, especially knowing how he first came here," Mirfendereski said. "He didn't know anybody, but now he has a great group of friends and we're all watching out for him and rooting for him, and now he's committed to one of the best schools in the country. For one of my closest friends to go out there and just show himself, I love to see it."
Mirfendereski will join Morakinyo among the Division I ranks after signing with Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, North Carolina.
Mirfendereski had his final two seasons at Denmark end prematurely after COVID-19 canceled the 2020 season and a torn ACL sidelined him during his senior season.
Still, Mirfendereski, who Denmark boys soccer coach Brett Godwin said "holds pretty much every single goalkeeping record there is to be had at our school," said he's never felt stronger heading into his collegiate career.
"My club season this past year I think was my best overall," Mirfendereski said. "I've never been this in shape in my life, and I'm really excited for Gardner-Webb."
Scott, who signed to play basketball for Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans, was Denmark's leading rebounder this season with 7.8 rebounds per game. Scott also averaged 14 points, 3.2 assists and 1.3 steals per game, helping the Danes to the first round of the Class 7A playoffs.
Scott was a key part in laying the foundation at Denmark, which advanced to the Class 4A Elite Eight in its inaugural season and reached the Class 4A Final Four in 2019-20.
"It's been amazing, to say the least," Scott said. "I was on the fence about staying at South or coming here, and that was the best decision I've made in my life so far. Just trusting these coaches and laying the foundation for years to come, it's been great."
Denmark boys basketball coach Tyler Whitlock said he could tell Scott would have the opportunity to play basketball in college after meeting him for the first time.
The offers didn't come instantly for Scott, but once Denmark's 6-foot-8 forward toured the campus, he knew he felt at home.
"It was nerve-wracking, for sure. There were a lot of days where I felt like I wasn't going to get my opportunity and the coaches weren't going to see how good I was and my potential and stuff like that," Scott said. "There were a lot of nerves, but at the end I just talked to my coaches, talked to my parents, and they were just like, 'Hey, your time is coming. Keep being patient. Eventually you'll get there.' I found my home."
Kelsey Sowa made school history when she became the Danes' first girls lacrosse player to sign to play in college.
Denmark girls lacrosse coach Skyler Wagner praised Sowa's play in the midfield and her ability to win draws and draw controls.
"I think it's pretty neat," Sawa said. "Coming from when the program just started, I think it was really fun to be able to be one of the first people to help move the team forward. It's just really cool that I can show other people that you can play in college out of a brand-new school."
Sawa added international lacrosse to her résumé during the summer of 2019, when she and a group of 17 girls from the United States traveled to play lacrosse in England and Scotland.
CJ Woodruff holds four school swim records and was part of Denmark's medley relay team that finished first at the county meet and eighth at the state meet.
Woodruff, who signed to swim at Emmanuel College, was also part of the Danes' third-place 400 free relay team and added a pair of top-10 individual times at the county meet in the 100 breaststroke (6th) and 50 free (7th).
"Just super proud of how he's grown," Denmark swim and dive coach Chris Cooper said. "I've only been coaching the program now for two years, but I've seen him kind of step up and become a leader. Just watching him swim this past year, I know he's going to make a big impact on this team when he starts."