What do you know about Alaska?
I don’t know much about it.
It’s cold. Anchorage is there. It’s beautiful.
But I almost ended up knowing everything about it. When I was six, my family nearly moved there. That’s crazy for me to think about — like for real, it legit blows my mind. How would I be different if I spent three years in Alaska instead of Germany — where we actually ended up moving.
Who would I be?
Even back then, as just a regular kid, I loved to commit to stuff. Like if I was going to play football, like American football, I wanted to be the best at it. Or basketball. Or whatever it was.
So what if I went to Alaska? Maybe this story would have been about Weston the snowboarder. I could see it. Or maybe … I don’t know, I’d be a world class dogsledder. I’d win a bunch of Iditarods. You know, that big dogsled race in Alaska? I really do think about that from time to time. Because life is weird, and sometimes you just have to make the most out of what you have.
Sam Robles/The Players' Tribune
That’s what I tried to do when we moved to Germany. I didn’t know much about the city of Kaiserslautern. My family moved there because my dad was in the military and he was stationed there after being stationed in Fort Lee in Virginia. My brother, sister and I kind of got thrown into a whole new world. We didn’t have the things we were used to, the things we loved.
There were no more pickup American football games against kids at the bus stop before school. No sneaking out of the house, down our cul-de-sac street and going to the playground. Everything in Germany was new. So we adjusted. And I don’t know exactly how it all started … but John, my older brother, got into football. Or as we knew it, soccer. But our new friends called it football.
We started to play a lot — like a lot a lot.
I think I loved the freedom of it. I had so much energy as a boy, and football was an excuse to go run around and be physical for an afternoon or evening. I didn’t have to put on pads or a helmet. The game didn’t stop every few minutes. It felt good. I remember following John one day to a game he was playing with some friends. He was 14, I was six. I kicked the ball around a bit on the sidelines and in warmup. My memory is a bit hazy, but there was a coach named David Müller at the park. He came up to John afterwards.
“Hey, you’re little brother … he’s not so bad. You should bring him out to the tryouts for the under-six team I coach”
We went home and talked to my mom. She gave the green light. Dad said it was fine, too. We gave him a “Yes, sir,” as was customary in our house. And we went off to practice. A few days later I remember going to tryouts in a polo shirt, khaki shorts and American football cleats because that’s all I had. I didn’t have a football kit. I’d only learned of the sport a few months before. But none of that mattered. Because I was fast. Like even for a five-year-old I was fast. Mom told me I blew everybody away with how quick I could move.
I made the team. And got real shorts and boots.
Sam Robles/The Players' Tribune
And in my first game — and this is true because David was my first coach, and I’m pretty sure he’d never lie to me — I scored eight goals. Eight.
That was my last game with the U-6s. I went to play with the U-8s after that.
Not bad for an American!
A few years later, in 2006, the World Cup came to Germany. I saw the U.S. beat Poland in a pretournament match. I met Carlos Bocanegra, Landon Donovan and a few of the other players. Man … I was hooked after that. Representing your country? How cool is that? They don’t have that in the American football.
When we moved back to the States, I played both footballs at first. Sometimes on the same day. I’d swap shoulder pads for shin guards in the car as Mom handed me a snack on the way to our match. That’s the way it went.
Gradually I moved away from one sport after I started to see a future in another. Football felt like such a gift — a gift that I never would have received if it weren’t for our time in Germany. And one I couldn’t have benefited from if it weren’t for the sacrifices of my parents. That’s why when I got a call from my agent, Cory Gibbs, in 2016 telling me that Schalke was interested in signing me, it felt like it was meant to be. I had started something all those years ago in Germany — and now it was time to go back to where it all began.
I only knew three clubs in Germany at the time. Schalke, Bayern and one other one. But when I started doing some reading on Schalke and the city of Gelsenkirchen, I fell in love. The fans were my type of people. Hardworking, passionate and loyal. That meant a lot to me.
Now I’ve been here for three years, just like when I was a boy. And all those things I read about Schalke are true. They’ve also become a part of my identity. From the supporters, to my teammates and coaches — Schalke is family.
And I can’t wait to see what’s next for our family.