Editor’s Note: This is the first installment of a two-part series examining the impact of international student-athletes on the local collegiate scene. Next week’s column will feature comments from the athletic directors who oversee these programs.

The United States has become a very popular destination for international students. According to recent figures from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office, approximately 1 million student visas are currently in circulation.

South Alabama's Emily Farrell (4) plays against Jacksonville State at The Cage in Mobile, Ala., Friday, August 15, 2014. She is one of several international members of the USA roster.

South Alabama's Emily Farrell (4) plays against Jacksonville State at The Cage in Mobile, Ala., Friday, August 15, 2014. She is one of several international members of the USA roster.

A small percentage of those scholars, though, are doing more than just hitting the books. They are also hitting the athletic fields in numerous sports at colleges throughout the country ­– including right here on the Alabama Gulf Coast.

A review of area schools reveals that both the University of Mobile and the University of South Alabama have 42 foreign student-athletes on their teams. Spring Hill College has 16 international players on their campus.

The numbers are not that surprising. The NCAA’s race and gender demographics database indicates 15,611 “non-resident alien” student-athletes in all divisions for the 2013-14 academic year. The numbers may actually be higher, as some foreign players may have been categorized with their actual ethnicity (such as a Mexican student marked as Hispanic, or a South Korean student listed as Asian).

In all NCAA sports from that school year, there were 479,681 men and women competing. The foreign players would then make up 3.3 percent of that total. The NAIA website states it oversees close to 60,000 students, so a similar percentage of intentional players would come to 1,980 athletes.

For Mobile County’s three universities, the greatest numbers of athletes come from England (13), Canada (11), Brazil (8) and South Africa (6). However, the list of countries represented is an impressive 40 — stretching from Japan (USA’s Berta Lucas) to Senegal (SHC’s Ibrahima Ndaw) to Iceland (UM’s Gunnar Steindorsson).

It is not new for international players to find success at American colleges. Such players as Hakeem Olajuwon (Nigeria) at Houston, Dikembe Mutombo (Congo) at Georgetown and Gabe Estaba (Venezuela) at South Alabama are among the best to have played at their respective schools.

Basketball, though, has been surpassed by other collegiate events over the years. In Mobile County, the most popular sports for international athletes are men’s soccer (26), men’s tennis (19), women’s soccer (16) and women’s tennis (10) — as compared to seven playing basketball basketball. Football is also represented, thanks to USA senior quarterback Brandon Bridge, a native of Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.

Some of the international athletes have been featured in the pages of Lagniappe. Tuki Jacobs, a sophomore at USA, represented Namibia in the Davis Cup tennis matches this summer. Corinne Missi, a sophomore at SHC from Cameroon, was an All-American in track last season for her efforts in the triple jump while also starting for the basketball team.

The inspiration for this column was a wonderful feature on the website www.usajaguars.com about ­­English soccer players at South Alabama, who were adjusting to life away from home. Making it easier for them is the fact that the Jaguars’ head coach Graham Winkworth and graduate assistant coach Jo Chubb are British.

“Having Jo is huge for the international girls, because she had done it herself,” said Winkworth, who has five players from England and two from Estonia on the Jag roster. “She played for North Alabama for four years, and has gone through some of the things they are experiencing now.”

The following list supplied by Mobile County’s four-year institutions includes its international student-athletes:

Spring Hill College

Men’s Basketball:
Matevz Rojc (Ljubljana-Smartno, Slovenia), Dejan Stefanovic (Paracin, Serbia)
Men’s Golf:
Michael Abram (Carnlough, Ireland), Kalle Nilsson (Gavle, Sweden)
Men’s Soccer:
Viktor Kvarnlof (Norrtalje, Sweden), Esteban Angel (Guayaguil, Ecuador), Casper Malmgren (Stockholm, Sweden), Mario Escalante (Santa Cruz, Bolivia), Arturo Garcia (Guayaquil, Ecuador), Matthew Lieshout (Auckland, New Zealand), Dinard Garrett (Kalmar, Sweden), Andres Alfonso (Bogota, Columbia), Ibrahima Ndaw (Dakar, Senegal)
Men’s Tennis: (Roster not complete) Alejandro Hastings (Mexico City, Mexico)
Women’s Basketball/Track & Field: Corinne Missi (Yaounde, Cameroon)
Women’s Soccer: Erin Claxton (Calgary, Alberta, Canada)

University of Mobile

Men’s Basketball:
Piers Carroll (West Chatswood, Australia), Daouda Soumaoro (Bamako, Mali)
Men’s Soccer:
Xavier Audergon (Lyon, France), Pierre Mangold (Paris, France), Harry McGregor (Edinburgh, Scotland), Jubril Lawal (Lagos, Nigeria), Gaetan Massiah (Bourdeaux, France), Gunnar Steindorsson (Reykjavik, Iceland), Clifford Nwechfom (Port Harcourt, Nigeria), Adedapo Adeniyi (London, England), Newton Henry (Clarendon, Jamaica), Dominic Jangoo (Santa Cruz, Trinidad & Tobago), George Stannard (Kent, England), Noel Johnson (Clarendon, Jamaica), Dakai Grant (Bermuda), Mitch Golding (Brisbane, Australia), Atem Kuot (South Sudan), Takumi Jeannin (Paris, France), Shaun Brown (London, England)
Men’s Tennis:
Lars Bannink (Oosterbeek, The Netherlands), Santiago Casucci (Mendoza, Argentina), Marcio Dal Pont (Foz do Iguassu, Brazil), Marco Del Prado (Lima, Peru), Bruno Marques (Santo, Brazil), Marcio Murakami (Sao Paulo, Brazil), Cesar Paleari (Londrina, Brazil), Guilherme Pansera (Xanxere, Brazil), Karlis Stonis (Riga, Latvia), Lucas Tristao (Sao Paulo, Brazil), Nick Van Amerom (Leeuwarden, The Netherlands)
Women’s Soccer:
Rachel Forestell (Quispamsis, New Brunswick, Canada), Leah Corse (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada), Elissa Chamberlain (Petit-Rocher, New Brunswick, Canada), Tyler-Rae Molloy (St. Albert, Alberta, Canada), Madison Kindzierski (St. Albert, Alberta, Canada), Savannah Rommel (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada), Adama Samura (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada), Melissa Beaulieu (Drummond, New Brunswick, Canada)
Women’s Tennis:
Fabienne Gfrorer (Stuttgart, Germany), Lea Junggeburth (Koln, Germany), Marcela Soalheiro (Governador Valadares, Brazil), Marianna Velozo (Ilheus, Brazil)

University of South Alabama

Men’s Basketball:
Luka Andjusic (Belgrade, Serbia), Georgi Boyanov (Lovech, Bulgaria)
Men’s Cross Country/Track & Field:
Renaldo Frechou (Paarl, Western Cape, South Africa), Christoph Graf (Chur, Grisons, Switzerland), Joe Gratton (Bakewell, England), Jan-Louw Kotze (Kleinzee, Northern Cape, South Africa), Ruan Meintjies (Basfontein Boons, North-West, South Africa), Michael Pienaar (Boksburg, Gauteng, South Africa), Patrick Rohr (Netstal, Switzerland)
Men’s Football:
Brandon Bridge (Mississauga, Ontario, Canada)
Men’s Golf:
Daniel Jansen (Kristiansand, Norway), Ryan Pope (Exmouth, Devon, England), Ally Purdy (Ballyclare, Northern Ireland), Matt Sheehan (Deal, Kent, England)
Men’s Tennis:
Manuel Belda (Posadas, Misiones, Argentina), Olivier Gingras (Quebec, Canada), Gerhard Gruindelingh (Pretoria, South Africa), Tuki Jacobs (Windhoek, Namibia), Daniel Leitner (Niederfischbach, Germany), Quincy Olij (Alkmaar, Netherlands), Juan Troglia (Mendoza, Argentina)
Women’s Cross Country/Track & Field:
Phoebe Dowson (Ringwood, Hampshire, England), Sara Jernfalt (Orebro, Sweden), Berta Lucas (Yokota, Japan), Kriszti Szabo (Gyor, Hungary), Philippa Van der Merwe (Postmasburg, Northern Cape, South Africa)
Women’s Golf:
Elisa Axelsen (Tollose, Denmark), Ingrid Hagen (Oslo, Norway)
Women’s Soccer:
Nikki Shirtcliffe (Burnley, England), Emily Farrell (Burnley, England), Steffi Hardy (Workington, England), Grete Kuppas (Adavere, Estonia), Rio Hardy (Workington, England), Tiina Trutsi (Tallinn, Estonia), Sophie Haywood (Hull, England),
Women’s Tennis:
Silvia Martinkova (Trencin, Slovakia), Laura Matuskova (Bratislava, Slovakia), Michaela Meszarosova (Bratislava, Slovakia), Cinta Maria Papke (Flein, Germany), Paula Sanchez (Bogota, Columbia), Laura Valkova (Piestany, Slovakia)
Women’s Volleyball:
Mechell Daniel (Chelmsford, England)