Missouri football gives international students a glimpse of American athletics

Saturday, April 28, 2012 | 6:50 p.m. CDT; updated 8:01 p.m. CDT, Saturday, April 28, 2012
About 150 international students gathered at the Mizzou Athletics Training Complex to take a tour of the complex and to learn about the game of football.

COLUMBIA — Although Josh Behiels is used to playing a hectic, violent sport with goal posts and end zones, he was far from at home as he stood on Faurot Field on Saturday.

Dressed in a red rugby jersey and white athletic shorts, Behiels, an MU student from Australia who plays rugby, darted around the field in football drills led by Missouri football players.

Behiels was one of 150 international students participating in the Missouri football team's International Day. The students were given a tutorial on the rules of football before taking a tour of the athletics facilities and practicing their skills at Memorial Stadium.

Although Behiels had seen American football before, he said Saturday's event gave him a better understanding of the game.

"In Australia, we get the exposure (to American football), but we don't get the understanding," he said. "We don't know the rules, so it's been very helpful in showing us why they do things. I had a lot of questions, but this really solved a lot of the answers."

Football is similar to rugby in many ways, but Behiels said he was surprised at how differently the offense and defense operate. In rugby, the same 15 players play both offense and defense. 

The interaction with the football players who helped run the clinic also changed Behiels' perspective on American athletes. 

As the students moved from station to station, the players running the drills found ways to keep them entertaining. Missouri running back Jared McGriff Culver had students competing in relay races. Former Missouri receiver Brad Ekwerekwu, who now works for the athletics department, told them they had to scream as they knocked aside dummies during a running drill. 

"It was really enjoyable out there," Behiels said. "It totally changed my expectation of the players. They were really quite friendly and easy going people."

While the students had an opportunity to clear up their confusion about the game itself, they also got a sense of the typical lifestyle of a Division I student-athlete. The four football players who helped run the event fielded questions that included why they decided to play at Missouri and how they manage their time while balancing class and football. 

Many of the international students seemed surprised at the time commitment made by the players, who likened playing football to a job.

"The time they spend here is really surprising to me because they get up really early and work," said Di Zhu, a Chinese student who had only watched football once before. "In China, when students have some kind of sport, they do it in their spare time."

Not all of the international students were strangers to American football, though. Maria Figueroa, a graduate student from Ecuador, and Serge Pires, a graduate student from Belgium, are Missouri season ticket holders. 

As someone who already understood the rules of football, Pires said he enjoyed the behind-the-scenes look.

"Looking at the training facilities, it's impressive, a pretty impressive building complex," he said. "Now that they've joined the SEC, it's going to even become better."

Figueroa said he enjoyed being able to interact with the players of the sport she has adopted. 

"I'm from Ecuador, and there is no football. There is only soccer and baseball and basketball," she said. "This is a true American sport."

Supervising editor is Greg Bowers.

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