Nicholas Schwikal knew very little about American football — or America, for that matter, before he arrived in Weatherford on Aug. 10, just in time to begin two-a-day workouts for the Kangaroos.
“I picked a great time to get here,” Schwikal said with an infectious laugh. “I learned quickly that it’s hot in Texas in August.”
He also learned the game of football quickly. The 16-year-old junior, a transfer student from Bernau, Germany, just outside of Berlin, had only dabbled in the sport in a small club league back home.
“I knew a little about it. I’d had some helmet and shoulder pad experience in Germany, but it was a league where, if you wanted to play a position, you just played it. I played pretty much all of them,” he said. “It wasn’t as organized as it is here.”
Schwikal, who goes by the nickname Nico, had played soccer for eight years back home. Through YouTube videos, he said he learned a lot about America and Texas, including how popular football is here, so he decided to give the country and the sport a try.
So he applied for an exchange year, having no idea which part of the United States he would land in. He was selected by Thomas and Rebecca Tenseth and was soon on his way to Weatherford.
“I could have wound up in Nebraska or Massachusetts,” he said. “But I’m glad I wound up here. Nothing against those places, and I’m sure I would have enjoyed myself, but I can’t believe how nice everybody is here. It makes a day good.
“And my host dad is maybe the best cook in the country, so I’ll go with pork chops or brisket.”
Schwikal is the third exchange student the Tenseths have hosted. They have no children of their own.
“You start washing dishes and he jumps up, grabs a towel and starts drying,” Tom Tenseth said. “He gets home, and right away he studies. He’s a great fit for us and a great fit for the team. A couple of the coordinators came up to me and asked, ‘Where did you find this kid?’
“I asked him one time, ‘Did you ever think this was destined for you? You’re playing for a 6A school that’s having one of the best seasons they’ve ever had.’”
Schwikal was a pleasant surprise to Weatherford coach Billy Mathis, in his third season leading the Kangaroos after spending several years as an assistant at nearby Aledo. He said it’s not uncommon for foreign exchange students to want to try football, but few have adapted to the sport like Schwikal.
“The heat is usually what gets them,” Mathis said. “But when he came in we put in practice and drills. Coach threw the ball to him and he was catching it. He seemed very comfortable,” Mathis said. “The best thing was how quickly he picked up our offense.
“He’s one of the best practice players I’ve ever been around. He’s a very determined individual, and you never have to tell him twice. His knowledge of the game and how he’s grown has just kept improving since he got here.”
Schwikal, 6-3, 203 pounds, isn’t just playing. He’s one of the best players on the Kangaroos, who are closing in on a second straight playoff berth, something that hasn’t happened in many years. He has 25 catches for 535 yards (an average of 21.4 yards per catch and 66.9 yards per game), and six touchdowns.
“And he’s a great blocker. He’s so well-rounded,” Mathis said.
Schwikal said his experience from soccer helped make him a good receiver.
“The footwork and conditioning in soccer, it makes you fast, and the agility helps me beat a defender,” he said.
But he doesn’t want to play soccer for the Kangaroos. He wants to play basketball and baseball, and maybe run track.
“I want to try basketball, and I’m really keen on baseball. It looks fun, though I’ve never played,” he said. “Track, we’ll see, but that looks fun also.”
Home and College
Schwikal is scheduled to return to Germany after the school year, but he’d like to stay if it could be worked out, though he admits missing his family, especially his 11-year-old twin sisters. He Skypes with his family once a week and they text almost daily.
“His family really supports him. They wear Weatherford Kangaroo shirts on Fridays,” Tenseth said.
Schwikal would like to play in college, and Mathis said he has the talent to help a college team. While it would be easier if he could stay another year, Mathis believes Schwikal could play in college even if he does go back to Germany.
He’s already planning to return to the U.S. to attend college.
“As smart as he is, he’s not going to have any trouble getting into a school, and he’d have the opportunity to walk on, and he’d be a bonus to any team that got him,” Mathis said.
Schwikal said he’s interested in studying either biology or chemistry, and he’s leaning toward the latter.
“I really loved chemistry. It fascinates me,” he said. “It’s the base structure of everything, even the football I catch.”