German full-back Johnson feels at home in New England


Knowing next to nothing about American college football, Jakob and a friend immediately took to scouring the internet to research anything they could on the subject. After a few weeks, they came up with a plan to compile a Word document listing each school in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I), with the names and email addresses of each defensive coach.

Jakob then messaged hundreds of schools, attaching his reel of highlights, videos of his workouts, and a call to give him an opportunity. Only three of them responded, each with a similar request: They wanted to see Jakob play against top American talent first. Could he go to prep school or high school here in the United States?

Chance favored Jakob. It turned out that an aunt and other family members lived in Jacksonville, Florida. Additionally, The Sunshine State allows students to play high school football until the age of 19. Despite having already graduated from German high school in the spring of 2013, Jakob will not be 19 until December of the same year. Additionally, he might take a few additional US courses to complete the requirements for a US high school diploma.

In an effort to further impress college coaches, Jakob took the SAT and ACT tests in German English and achieved strong grades. Jakob’s Jacksonville family also agreed to host him, as did Jean Ribault, the local high school. In July 2013, Jakob arrived in Florida, expecting, he tells his accommodating aunt, not to impose on him more than a year. True to his word, he would have left in half that time.

“I didn’t feel so fat [a decision] at the time, “he admits with a contagious laugh.” I had nothing that fascinates me except football which would make me apply to a university in Germany. I had no idea this was going to lead to me getting a scholarship. It was just like, ‘I’m going to try this and see if it works. I will probably be back in Germany next year. It was the state of mind in July. In January, I was at the University of Tennessee preparing for spring football. “

But first, he had to overcome the culture shock of the realities of his new homeland.

“When you have international experience,” he points out, “you kind of have a warped outlook on life in America, because you only have pop culture references. My family lives in County of Duval, one of the toughest neighborhoods in Florida, I think I stood out.

“During the summer I was jogging from my aunt’s house to high school. It really wasn’t that far, but it was through more difficult neighborhoods. I think everyone knew it was that weird German going to high school here now. Nobody gave me a problem, but I think people were a little confused by what I was doing. “

If in fact the locals were bewildered by this self-proclaimed “meat head” from abroad, it didn’t take long for them to embrace him and his passion for American football. Some of the new teammates from Jakob to Jean Ribault, on the sidelines of dropping out of school, were rather inspired by his quest. “Hey,” they thought, “if this German kid who just arrived here thinks he can go to college, maybe I have a chance too. “

The team posted a 7-4 record in 2013 – good enough to advance to the Florida High School playoffs, but not progress. During this season, however, a Jakob teammate who had a parent on staff at the University of Idaho did signal that the Vandals might want to take a look at this German kid. Coaches from Idaho followed and became the first school to offer Jakob a scholarship.

Rutgers, Tulane, Syracuse and the University of Central Florida quickly followed. As momentum began to build, a few schools in the SEC – the most elite and competitive conference in college football – expressed moderate interest, but none made offers. Next, Jean Ribault faced Baker County, which itself featured a top-notch rookie.

“I played pretty well – a bunch of tackles, a pick,” Jakob recalls. Present that day, the defensive back coach of the University of Tennessee, Willie martinez, who later informed the linebacker’s coach Tommy thigpen visit Jakob.

“They took me out of the classroom. When I walked into the office and [Coach Thigpen] seeing how tall I was, he said, ‘We have to offer this guy.’ Which, of course, turned my head a lot. I already think I’m the best thing ever, ”Johnson laughed at the memory.

At the end of his high school season, Jakob paid an official visit to Tennessee to see them drop a 14-10 decision to Vanderbilt on November 23. But the Volunteers had already done everything for him. “They hooked me up quickly,” he admits. Just five months after his first stint in the United States, Jakob Johnson made a commitment to play college football in the Southeastern Conference.

A year later – 364 days, to be precise – he would take his first steps as a first-year linebacker, posting three tackles against Missouri while wearing the number 44 jersey, as a tribute to his late friend and former teammate, Florian. Hansen.

Yet his coaches still didn’t know what to do with this raw athlete. After briefly trying it out at the defensive end, Tennessee moved Jakob to the tight end in his sophomore year. In each of the next two seasons, he saw action in all 13 volunteer games, mostly on special teams.

Some might consider his four-year career in Knoxville to be a huge success. But not Jakob, who frankly admits, “I left Tennessee with a lot of regrets, which is the worst thing that can happen to you. When I returned home to Germany, I came back defeated.


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