Coming to America

How an Austrian exchange student went from playing on his father's flag football team as a kid to starting at the varsity level in America

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Coming to America

Kyle Pinnell

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When you look up the top sports in Austria, four things pop up: alpine skiing, ice hockey, soccer, and rugby. One sport that does not show up at all is American football.

This summer an exchange student from Austria arrived in Beaverton and not only does he play American football, but he is also talented enough to start at the varsity level.

Lukas Holub, a junior from Vienna, Austria, has been influenced by American football for as long as he can remember. After five years of playing at a high level at home, he received the opportunity to come and test his skills in America.

Holub (#98) playing football back home in Austria

From Austria to America

Unlike most kids in his country, Holub grew up with American football. His father, Michael, played for ten years in Vienna and runs a flag football school. He also works for the Vienna Vikings in the Austrian Football League and took Lukas to see his first game when he was four years old.

In a country more obsessed with soccer, or football as they call it, Holub’s only option to play the sport was through the flag football program that his dad ran. In Europe, not a lot of schools have their own sports teams. Instead, kids who want to play sports have to join a club sports team. In Vienna, playing club soccer was much more popular and accessible than club football.

While soccer dominates the airwaves in Europe, one can’t-miss American sporting event is the Super Bowl. According to Holub, on that day everyone is watching American football even if they don’t follow the NFL at all.

“No one watches the season, but then when it’s the Super Bowl it’s ‘I’m a fan of this team or a fan of that team,’ and ‘are you watching the Super Bowl? Of course I’m watching the Super Bowl,’” he says.

This year, instead of having to watch college or NFL football on tape delay, Holub can tune into games in real time. In fact, his first American football fan experience came at Autzen Stadium earlier this year when the Ducks took on the Portland State Vikings.

Holub at Autzen Stadium to see the Ducks take on the PSU Vikings

Before Holub walked onto the field for the first time last summer, Southridge head coach Kevin Bickler had heard rumors about the type of player that he was getting.

Cam Frickey, one of Bickler’s former football teammates at Western Oregon University, coaches a women’s football team in Austria and knows Holub’s father. Upon hearing that Holub’s son was going to be playing at Southridge, he reached out to Bickler and told him that the program would be receiving a good player.

The communication between Holub and Bickler began as soon as Holub knew where he would be heading as an exchange student. What started as a simple conversation about the scheduling for the season ended with him moving his arrival date from the beginning of September to the Sunday before daily-doubles started in mid-August.

The Transition

In just over five years of playing football, Holub has already found both team and individual success. In Austria, Holub and his club team made it to the national title game in their division. At Southridge, he has been a consistent starter on the offensive line.

For Holub, the biggest question heading into the season was how his experience in Austria would transfer over to a more physical brand of football that is played in America.

Those questions were answered the first few days of practice as he showed his high football IQ.

One moment that stands out to Bickler came on the first day two-a-day practices. Holub was standing off to the side watching the line and trying to figure out what was going on as the Hawks ran their no-huddle offense. Ten minutes later he told Bickler that he was ready and jumped in. What impressed Bickler and his teammates the most was how much Holub picked up in a short amount of time.

“He’s amazing. His IQ level is through the roof. He can read the field and understand what’s going on and make great plays through that,” fellow lineman Eric Bracken says. “He picked up [the concepts] within an instant and it’s like he’s been here forever.”

Holub (right) playing football back home in Austria

A rude awakening was in store for Holub during his first week of daily doubles. His “welcome to American football” moment came early on when he realized the practices and games would be much harder than what he was used to.

“In Austria, it’s more laid back, we start ten minutes later,” Holub says. “Here it’s very planned and scheduled and it’s way faster than in Austria. In Austria, it’s pretty chill and the drills are not that hard.”

The five hours of football a day while transitioning to a new country was tough for Holub, but Bickler says he couldn’t see any fatigue in him. Bickler believes that not only was he was in great shape, but he was in even better than some of the players who were training all summer long.

“You could tell that he was well coached and that he knows what he is doing and he’s strong,” Bickler says. “He’s a big, strong kid and he’s got a good frame to him. He hasn’t stopped growing either, he’s going to continue to grow and he’s just been a good addition to our team.”

Holub attacking the quarterback against the Beavers

Looking Towards the Future

In just one season Holub has left a good impression among his teammates and coaches.

“He’s a little more quiet, a little more reserved, he seems a little bit shy, but when you start talking to him and carry on a conversation he’s very respectful,” Bickler says. “He’s always smiling so he’s a happy guy, he seems to be fitting in with the guys really well; he’s developed some strong friendships and he’s just a class-act in general.”

While quiet and shy off the field, he is anything but on the gridiron.

Something that Holub has been known to do is talk trash to the opposing team in German. It’s all in good fun, but it certainly shocks opponents when it happens. To his teammates, it’s all very humorous.

It’s the funniest thing ever,” Bracken says. “[Against] Lincoln we got a flag and he said in German to the [Cardinals] ‘That’s a present because you guys are so bad.’”

When the school year is finished, Holub will be returning to Vienna with many new experiences and more knowledge about the game of football. Despite really enjoying the season he is unsure what his future will entail.

“I’m not sure if I will continue playing football,” Holub says. “I think I will want to focus on school or academic stuff and I want to go to a university. I don’t know if there’s that much time left to play football.”

While Holub is undecided, Bickler and his teammates would love to see him back for another year, even if it’s a rather lofty ambition.

“I wish there were a way we could get him to come back his senior year because I think that kid could earn a spot somewhere in American college football and possibly get a scholarship with his frame, his attitude, and his work ethic; he’d be a great addition,” Bickler says.

“It’s been amazing and I really like him being here,” Bracken added. “I’d like for him to be here longer and stay here.”

Holub lining up for the snap against the Beavers

No matter what Holub decides to do about his future, he will always have his experience from this season. As an exchange student, he received the opportunity to play the sport that he loves in the country where it originated from while starting for the majority of the season.

“Lukas has been rock solid for us on the line and he’s really integrated himself into the team and the team has accepted him as a part of our family,” Bickler says. “He’s performed above any expectations I could ever have for someone coming in new to a country and having to integrate into a system that they’re not familiar with.”

From going to college football games to starting on varsity, Holub has had many experiences to write home about. And do all these activities make his friends at home a little jealous?

“Yes,” Holub says with a smile.