As of September 21, with a 4-0 record, St. Andrew's-Sewanee School had the third ranked 8-man football team in the state of Tennessee. Pretty remarkable for a school for which a winning football tradition has not been the norm. Even more remarkable when one notes that one-quarter of the team is not from the United States and did not grow up playing American football.
When Head Coach John Hargis's squad of 28 young men take to the field, six countries are represented: Mexico, China, Bulgaria, Rwanda, Germany, and the United States. This isn't some recruiting scheme; six of the international players had never played football before this year. They are excited to finally get a chance to try American football, as it is known in countries where soccer dominates.
Language can sometimes be a challenge. Although all of the students come to St. Andrew's-Sewanee having studied English for most of their education, bump-and-run and blitz are not usually part of their vocabulary. This year, Hargis is getting some translation help from senior Steven Zhu, a three-year varsity player and SAS soccer stand-out from Shanghai, who was provided with similar help from an upperclassman from China when he was first starting out. In addition to playing, it's Zhu's job to be sure that the guys know that a turnover is not a pastry.
It is a tough way to build a football dynasty. Although sophomore Laurenz Schumacher of Cologne, Germany and junior Georgi Georgiev of Troyan, Bulgaria have earned their way on to the kick-off team, both will return home at the end of the school year when their one-year study abroad opportunity ends. Hargis doesn't mind the challenge, in fact, he was surprised when someone pointed out that 25% of his team are foreigners. He had not noticed.
As for the winning season, "People keep asking me 'what are you doing differently,'" said Hargis. "To be honest, the coaching is the same. It is the guys' attitudes and work ethic this year. All of our seniors have really stepped up and that is filtering down through the whole squad." Even to the guys who didn't know until a month ago that "sack" could mean something other than what you use to carry your lunch.