SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – When the St. Andrew’s football team took the field last Friday night, new head coach Blake Henry wasn’t the only Lion making a debut.
Justus Knapp and Jonathan Rickert, two foreign exchange students from Germany, got to suit up and play American football for the first time.
“I’m not used to so many viewers on the sidelines, so that was something very special,” Knapp said.
The first day they stepped on campus, Knapp and Rickert both walked into Henry’s office to express their interest in joining the football and basketball teams. Both students play basketball competitively in Germany, but had never tried out the football played here in the United States.
It didn’t matter.
“When two athletes like that show up at your door, you will coach them up and teach them,” Henry said.
Slightly different than the ‘football’ played in Europe, there’s certainly been a learning curve for the two new players.
“I’m watching it, but I have no idea what the rules are to be honest,” Rickert admitted when asked about his prior knowledge of football before coming to the United States. “I’m just watching it and I love it.”
The loved it enough to do their homework before embarking on their trip halfway across the world. Knapp watched the Tampa Bay Buccaneers win Super Bowl LV with a smile on his face, knowing he would soon be the one putting on the pads for St. Andrew’s.
Rickert remembers going to small, organized football games in his hometown growing up, but nothing beats playing it for himself.
“It’s the experience that makes it great,” Rickert explained. “It’s the feeling of having these cleats on, the pads, and the helmet.”
Less than one month after arriving to the United States, the two Germans are already playing big roles for their team. Knapp starts at linebacker, while Rickert has been a key piece on special teams and figures to crack the starting lineup in other positions in the coming weeks.
“They are taking a leap of faith coming out and playing a sport that is the best sport in the world, but it’s also the hardest sport in the world,” new head coach Blake Henry explained. “You have to be really committed.”
The pair have a strong support system back in Germany, even if their loved ones aren’t exactly sure what they are doing.
“My parents have no clue about football, Knapp said with a laugh. “I sent them a few clips and they were like ‘what is going on?'”
Sure there’s still plenty of rules and strategy these guys need to figure out. Knapp will be the first to admit he’s still trying to learn what a holding penalty is. They’ve got one quality that can make up for any shortcomings of picking up a sport for the first time.
“That’s why it’s the greatest sport in the world,” Henry added. “If you are aggressive and work hard, you can play football. Especially at St. Andrew’s.”
“Ever since I was young, I wanted to come here,” Rickert said. “I love it.”