MARBURG and COTTBUS, Germany — Believe it or not, the sport of football is present, even popular, in Germany.
Even more surprising is that two people involved with the gridiron sport in Germany are from Knox County.
Sam Weiss attended Rockland District High School until his junior year and spent his final year of high school at Pope John XXIII Regional High School in New Jersey, where he graduated in 2010. Alex Young, also a 2010 graduate, spent his high school years at Rockland District.
Both Weiss and Young have donned the football pads and helmet for teams in the German Football League, a league with three divisions and roughly 70 teams, and have done their fair share of growing the sport in Germany.
How exactly did two guys from Midcoast Maine land in Germany to be involved in the game of football?
Simply put, love and passion for the sport was strong enough to uproot them from the Maine lifestyle and thrust them into the unknowns of Germany.
After finishing his playing career for Springfield College in Massachusetts, Weiss winced at the thought of his playing days on the gridiron coming to an end.
While researching how he could extend his playing time, Weiss learned about the opportunity of playing football overseas in Europe. With the upcoming season’s starting date not working in his favor, Weiss accepted a coaching position with the Bates College football team. While in Lewiston, the urge to step on the gridiron as a player continued to gnaw at Weiss.
As soon as he was able to, Weiss joined the European free market for football players and began fielding offers from teams such as Germany’s Cottbus Crayfish, who nearly signed Weiss.
When the Marburg Mercenaries of the German Football League’s top division reached out, however, Weiss knew he could not pass up the opportunity to play in the league’s highest division and opted to sign with the Mercenaries.
Though signing with the Mercenaries, Weiss did not leave the Crayfish completely high-and-dry. He referred Young, his former teammate at Rockland, to the Crayfish.
The Crayfish may not have signed the former Rockland Tiger they initially targeted, they nonetheless were able to add a Tiger to the roster as Young, ultimately, opted to sign with the team.
Young was introduced to the concept of playing overseas by Weiss in November 2014 as he was finishing up his final semester at Husson University.
With no luck in finding an ideal job, Young decided to test the same free agent waters as Weiss and soon received offers from teams in Germany, Australia, Brazil and France.
Young elected to sign with the Crayfish since they presented the best financial package and offered Young the best level of competition of all the teams pursuing him.
The level of competition Weiss has seen in his division is similar, he says, to those playing for NCAA Division III teams in the United States. The teams in his division also import American players who have played at all levels of NCAA collegiate football, including Division I powerhouses. Weiss noted that in his years of coaching in Germany, he has coached players from Baylor University, University of Florida, University of Nevada at Las Vegas and University of Texas.
Having to adapt to a new environment in a new city or state can be a daunting task. Adapting to a new country that speaks a completely different language, though, is a feat itself.
Weiss stated one of the most difficult transitions for him was going from strictly being a player to being a player and a coach and then strictly being a coach.
“The transition in the beginning was quite drastic, [considering] I had lived in only Rockland and Bangor my entire life,” Young said. “I had never really even considered travelling to Europe.”
As for the language barrier, Weiss noted over time that barrier weakens, though he admits he is still nowhere near perfect.
“I have small phrases and the basics down,” Weiss said. “However in my area it is all I really needed. There were thousands of students in Marburg which made it a big English and German speaking community.”
“It was certainly easy communicating with the guys on the team because so many of them spoke such great English,” Young added. “It was quite difficult getting around in the city on our own though. I had to use a lot of Google Translate on my phone, and usually had to bring a German teammate along any time I needed to get something done in the city.”
Weiss’ first season in Germany did not go as planned as the team did not perform as well as they should have. To help, Weiss asked to be more involved with the team ahead of his second season in Germany and was offered the role of defensive coordinator. Weiss also shifted from playing free safety to playing linebacker.
What would happen to Weiss in his second German season was nowhere near what he envisioned would occur during the 2016 season.
The first game of his second German season, Weiss dove to block a punt and shattered his C5 vertebrae, which had to be removed and replaced with a bone from his pelvis.
“I jogged off the field and even made some adjustments before realizing the severity of the injury,” Weiss said. “That was the last game I played. I managed to be back coaching from the booth the very next week. From then on on was the defensive coordinator only.”
Football’s Popularity in Germany
Football is actually quite popular in Germany and is played on every continent except Antarctica. (One organization is currently attempting to organize a game in Antarctica.)
“In the last 5-10 years football has been growing rapidly across Europe, specifically Germany,” said Young. “About three years ago, they began broadcasting NFL games on national television with German commentators, teaching the game to the fans watching.”
Weiss recently went to the German Bowl championship game that drew 18,000 spectators with “another few hundred thousand” tuned in to Sport1, the German version of ESPN, to watch the game.
Weiss noted his team’s home games host 1,500 to 3,000 spectators, depending on the opponent, and the road games are played in front of before 1,000 to 10,000 people, depending on the opponent. For Young’s team, playing in the third tier of the German Football League, the Crayfish average between 200 to 600 spectators for home games.
“People who are avid fans are very knowledgeable of the game,” Weiss stated. “In bad seasons the fans will question import players and coaches critically just as in good seasons they will do the same in a more positive manner. There is a lot of community support.”
Weiss noted many of the board members for the German teams are former players or former NFL Europe fans. Young echoed that statement and noted German companies pour sponsorship money into teams to support efforts to acquire better European and American players.
“There [are] also many football camps popping up all over Germany where pro coaches will come and hold seminars and practice sessions with coaches and players,” Young added. “This is certainly speeding up the growth of the game, and giving more people the basic knowledge needed to understand the game.”
Weiss said football is nearly a full-time gig at his level of play. Camp starts in March and the team will usually schedule a couple of preseason contests ahead of its 14 game regular schedule season that begins in mid-to-late April.
Young not only plays football for the Crayfish but also trains some of the players within the program. He noted he works very close with the head coach regarding practice planning, running drills and developing game plains and trains the offensive line for the men’s team, U19 and U16 teams during practices and works with them in the weight room during the off-season.
When not consumed in the game of football, Weiss has seen large parts of Germany, especially since road games can be up to seven hours away. He has seen every castle in the state of Hessen and explored cities such as Frankfurt, Munich, Stuttgart and Ingolstadt, among others.
Young and his wife, who wed in August, have been able to travel across Europe to explore Poland, Switzerland, Spain, France and England.
Both Weiss and Young plan on spending the foreseeable future in Germany involved with the game of football and making the most of their time living in Germany.
Reach George Harvey and the sports department at: email@example.com.