From Germany to Springwood: A pivotal part of the Wildcats

Published 11:25 am Saturday, October 21, 2023

Just a few years ago, Linus Wanninger did not know one thing about American Football. Now, Wanninger has become a key member of a team contending for a championship. 

The Springwood Wildcats have their sights set on returning to the state championship. A key part of getting to that point is Wanninger. Wanninger has started games at linebacker for the Wildcats and played some on offense. 

Wanninger moved to Springwood’s International School from South Germany as a freshman two years ago. Wanninger had no plans to join the football team as he was already in the midst of overcoming the challenges that come with being a foreign student. 

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Wanninger knew how to speak English, but no textbook or class could have prepared him for the amount of slang used in America. Then, there are even more challenges added when trying to understand southern accents. 

“The way people talk here, it was really hard to understand,” Wanninger said. “I used to learn Northern English, when I came here it was pretty hard. I had to translate so much from my phone to even understand the questions.”

Football added an extra language barrier. High school football comes with its own slang and terms that a foreign student would not encounter anywhere else. 

“They’re having to learn a new language, and then you throw another monkey wrench in there which is football vernacular,” Springwood coach Joey Burch said. “It’s a whole lot for them to grasp in a year. It takes about a year to figure out what’s going on.” 

Wanninger was encouraged to join the football team by the quarterback at the time, Cooper Champion. To start out, Wanninger had to learn every aspect of football. Now, Wanninger is at home on the field and he has become a true Wildcat. 

“I didn’t know anything,” Wanninger said. “I only knew the name. I was asked to play football, but I didn’t really want to. Now, I love that sport. I have to grab a ball all the time.” 

Even after learning certain aspects of the game, Wanninger still had to overcome cultural barriers in order to become a better football player. 

Football is an inherently violent sport and several cultures teach against some of the things that are just commonplace on the gridiron. 

“It’s ok to hit someone, and hit someone hard,” Burch said. 

“The other player is okay because they know it’s football. They’ve been taught in their culture not to do these things. That’s the big obstacle anytime we get one of these international kids is to tell them that is the sport.” 

At linebacker, Wanninger struggled with his tackling early on. Wanninger just did not feel comfortable hitting another person.

“That makes it really hard for me,” Wanninger said. “Because he feels something. I’m just worried to hit some random person I don’t even know.” 

Wanninger has begun to overcome that barrier over time to become a better linebacker. Football did not just create challenges for Wanninger though, it also created possibilities. 

Wanninger first encountered the weight room through the football team, and it has now become a major part of his life. 

“I got really strong, and my mental health got way better by doing that,” Wanninger said. “I work out every summer now. It just makes my life better.” 

Now, Wanninger continues to work out when he goes back home to Germany each summer. Coming to Springwood as a freshman made Wanninger feel like an outsider early on. After joining the football team, Wanninger made friendships that have lasted ever since. 

“The first year I kind of lived on my own,” Wanninger said. “I didn’t have any friends, but it got better with the weight room especially.”

Still, there are several things that Wanninger misses about his home country. Being so far removed from his family and friends is tough, but Wanninger also misses aspects of his old school. 

In Germany, Wanninger used to stay at school until 6:30 P.M. each day singing with the boy’s choir. Wanninger misses that music, but he has found a love for new music in the United States. 

“If I think about music now, then I really miss it,” Wanninger said. “I just miss the sound of everybody singing together. I still listen to music all the time, every day. It’s just less Catholic music, more rap now.” 

Wanninger’s growth on and off the football field has been tremendous. Now, he has learned and grown a love for a sport that was foreign to him not that long ago. 

“The best thing was when I really started to play well this year, and I really understood the game,” Wanninger said. “I had to learn the game the last two years, and I was just benched. As I learn the sport, it just gets better.” 

“It really has been unbelievable,” Burch said. “He got that first year of growth and figured out what football was about. Then, we started being able to coach him some of the techniques. He’s come a long way.” 

Several other international students play on Springwood’s junior varsity squad. Burch has had the unique opportunity of seeing those kids grow into football players. 

“That’s one of the joys I’ve had is seeing them grow, develop and have fun,” Burch said. “That just adds another layer to why Springwood is a special place because we get to see those kids doing something they’ve never done before.” 

Wanninger is now an ambassador for the football team inside the international school. Wanninger acts as a recruiter, and he has helped many other kids like him on the team. 

“He’s an encourager of those kids that come over here to get them involved in playing football,” Burch said. “He really has talked the kids into coming out and giving it a try. He coaches them up the best he can.” 

Springwood has undoubtedly changed Wanninger over the years, but he has had just as much of an impact on the Wildcats. 

“He teaches us German words,” Burch said. “When we want to mirror a quarterback, the word for that is spiegel. All our kids know what it means now. We’ve got several German terms that we use, and it’s fun for him. It’s fun for our kids to learn something new.”

As a junior, Wanninger has become an integral part of the team. Next season, the team is expecting even more from him. 

“He’s one of the guys now,” Burch said. “I think next year, we’ve got to count on him. He’ll be a player next year.” 

Wanninger still keeps hold of his roots and love for his home country. However, Springwood has become his second home, and he is a Wildcat through and through.