As he tries to adjust to a new country and a new culture, Creighton freshman Fabian Herbers has found some common ground on the soccer field.
The German native fit right in with his new Bluejays teammates. After all, they speak the same language on the pitch.
“We’re out here with the same goal, to improve and to win games together,’’ Herbers said. “That’s the thing that connects all players. Right now, it’s harder to make friends in the classroom than on the soccer field.
“We have a common interest out here. Soccer is the main thing with us.’’
Herbers’ desire to combine soccer and education is the reason he finds himself halfway around the world from his home in Ahaus, Germany. Same with fellow countrymen Timo Pitter and Vincent Keller, both sophomores, and freshman Marvin Iskra.
Creighton coach Elmar Bolowich, a native of Germany himself, brought the four players to Omaha after they had been identified as prospects by scouting services the coach uses in Europe.
Those services, many run by Europeans who played in the U.S. themselves, educate prospective players on the American college system, getting them up to speed on NCAA rules and academic requirements.
“To combine the athletic part with the education is only possible in the U.S.,’’ Bolowich said. “In Germany, there’s a strict separation. You don’t play for your university, you play for your club. But your club might practice at a time when you need to take courses.’’
Herbers said the thought of combining the two intrigued him, although he had never heard of Creighton before Bolowich started recruiting him.
“I thought this would be a good opportunity for me,’’ Herbers said.
One of the keys in making it work, Bolowich said, is finding players who value the educational experience as much as the soccer. Most young European soccer players grow up, he said, dreaming of becoming professionals.
“They are like most college players in the U.S.,’’ Bolowich said. “But for most of them, 90 percent of them, it’s not realistic. Same in Europe. The pro level there is much more rigorous and much more tiered than it is here.
“The guys that come over here understand the value of education. That’s why they do it.’’
So far, the experience is working out well for both sides. Herbers, a 6-foot, 170-pound midfielder, has started both of second-ranked Creighton’s games. He scored a goal in the Bluejays’ 2-0 win over Tulsa, and had two assists in the 3-0 victory over Cal Poly.
Herbers earned a spot on TopDrawerSoccer’s team of the week for his play last week, and he ranks second on the team in scoring, a point behind Pitter, heading into Friday’s 7:30 p.m. match against Columbia at Morrison Stadium.
“When you’re new, you always feel unsure,’’ Herbers said. “When you play well and even score, like I did, it’s a good feeling. Everyone is happy with you, and you feel more comfortable and more confident.’’
The American game has required some adjustments for Herbers. He said he is more accustomed to the tactical soccer played in Germany.
“It was difficult at first because American soccer is more physical,’’ he said. “There are a lot of differences but I’m getting used to it.
“We do a lot more fitness work in the weight room here and a lot more running in practice. And there’s more fouling in the games. It’s much harder than German soccer.’’
Herbers is adapting well, Bolowich said. He had Herbers pegged to be a mature player, similar to what the Bluejays found Pitter to be when he came into the program a year ago. Pitter developed into Creighton’s leading scorer as a freshman.
“Fabian can play multiple positions,’’ Bolowich said. “He’s very versatile. He can go left-right, and he’s very good on set pieces.’’
Overall, Herbers is pleased with how he’s transitioned to life in a strange land.
“The first two weeks were very difficult for me,’’ he said. “I left my family, my friends, my girlfriend back in Germany. The language here is different, and so is the culture.
“It’s been difficult but the guys have been great. And the coach speaks German, too. That’s an advantage.’’