Football has not been a part of Nicholas Schwikal’s life for that long of time; the Weatherford High School junior’s first experience with the sport was watching Super Bowl 50 on TV in his home country of Germany.
However, the allure of the game was enough to help spur Schwikal, who already had ambition of coming stateside to improve his English speaking while getting a taste of life in the U.S.A., into a trip to America this school year.
Now in the middle of his standalone season with the Roos, the junior said his experience has been nothing short of amazing.
“My whole goal was to come to the United States to improve my English skills to have an advantage for future jobs,” Schwikal said.
“To live the American life and experience it all. America is totally different.
“My family applied for an exchange year through an organization, we had to pay for it, and now I’m staying with a wonderful host family. It’s the best host family you can imagine, they really care for me, they take me out and show me how it is to be an American.”
While Schwikal stressed playing football was always one of his ambitions when it came time to travel to the U.S., landing with a Class 6A team in Texas proved the icing on the cake.
“It was totally random,” Schwikal said.
“You pay for the exchange year, you fill out an application, the host families go through those and then they pick a student. I could have ended up anywhere. I’m really so blessed I got to come to Weatherford. I mean, Class 6A football, in Texas? That is just awesome. The best experience you can have as a football player.”
Even the tedious details, such as early morning workouts and giving the immense commitment required to play, things which might create disinterest among some potential players, leaves Schwikal wanting more.
“I really love to wake up at 5:30 a.m., be on the field at 6:30 a.m., have practice until 9 a.m., go to school and come back to the field after school,” Schwikal said.
Much of that devotion comes from the sense of unity the Roos approach each practice and game with, as well as the leadership within Weatherford’s locker room, Schwikal said.
“The team spirit, it’s different in America,” Schwikal said.
“People are united and fight through a whole season, competing in practice and then competing together on the field against another team, just the hype coming out of the locker room is crazy.
“We have great team leaders like Ken Seals and Dez Forrest. Coach [Billy] Mathis knows what he’s doing, he knows he has a great responsibility. I think he’s one of the best head coaches in the country. He lives, eats, sleeps football, and I do too now.”
That image stands in stark contrast to the status of American football in Germany, Schwikal said.
“It’s not a big thing in Germany,” Schwikal said.
“My first [experience] with football was when I saw Super Bowl 50 on TV, and I was hyped up and asked, ‘What’s that?’ I had never heard about football before, so me and my family started playing catch in the backyard and I ended up in a small, American football club in a nearby town. It was an amazing experience, so I was so glad to come to Texas and experience that.
“And it’s so much bigger here. We had about 50 visitors at a game in Germany, and now here, the whole town is watching, you have the National Anthem, the cheerleaders and Blue Belles, the band playing. Running out of the tunnel, you get fired up standing with your teammates, being proud to be a part of the team. You want to make this town proud.”
While foreign exchange students trying out for football is nothing new, Schwikal’s commitment to putting in the required work to make the Roos’ squad certainly was, Mathis said.
“When Nico got here, he said, ‘Coach, I’d like to come out and try to play football.’ And we’ve had foreign exchange students every year that want to come out and play, but usually in two-a-days the heat gets them. They’re not used to it, and they’ll come out for a day or two and say, ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’ But not Nico, he came out and he loves it.
“I asked him when he started playing football, and he said he played in Germany with his dad. They watched one of the Super Bowls together. People in his little town would get together and some of his buddies would play backyard football. He said they would stay up and watch any replays of NFL games.”
That interest in the sport, as well as Schwikal’s determination to carve out a spot for himself out on the gridiron has paid off so far in 2019, with the junior, who has lined up as a tight end, receiver and fullback, racking up 16 receptions for 337 yards and three TDs in six games.
“He’s a big, athletic kid,” Mathis said.
“He’s been a great asset to our team. On the first day he was here, he was studying the playbook. He gets in there with Ken a lot, and they go over stuff together. He’s a great teammate and he works hard in the weight room.”
Mathis added that it has not just been Schwikal’s work ethic which has stood out, but the junior’s attitude as well, something Weatherford’s head coach said has been instrumental in the German-based player’s success out on the field.
“Not only is he doing well, but he loves being over here,” Mathis said.
“He loves being in the classroom, he loves being out on the field. He’s fun to have around, because he’s always in a good mood, he’s always working hard. All his teachers love him, the student body loves him, whenever he makes a big catch in a game, everybody goes crazy.
“He’s such a great competitor, he loves playing football. And he plans on doing everything this year, he wants to do basketball, powerlifting, track. He wants to do all he can while he’s here in America.”
That sentiment is shared by Seals, who praised Schwikal's commitment to his team and the sport itself.
"Nico is awesome, probably the nicest dude on the team," Seals said.
"And the greatest thing about him is that he is 100 percent dedicated to football. So far he's played a huge role on our team, playing some receiver, tight end, fullback; it doesn't matter what he's doing, his only goal is to do the best he can. I've never seen anyone practice as hard as him. You can tell it has been his dream to play football in America, and he's killing it."
While Schwikal’s time with the Roos is set to come to an end with the conclusion of the school year, the junior said he will cherish his time with the team and community forever, while expressing hope of returning down the road to potentially play for an American college.
“This is gonna be a thing that will be stuck in my head,” Schwikal said.
“I hope I can continue next year and maybe find a way to stay here. This is my first American football team. I’ll remember all my team members, the coaches, definitely my host family. It’s been the best experience.”