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November 5, 2012

Scandinavian Sensation

Foreign exchange student, Larsen, gives Empire boost

EMPIRE — Freddy Larsen is certain the Empire Bulldogs could win the national championship. The Danish national championship of American football, that is.

And Larsen should know. He’s played for it.

Before traveling 4,031 miles to bring his football talents to Empire as a foreign exchange student, Larsen roamed the gridiron for the Herlev Rebels, a team of 16-year-old or younger boys in Denmark.

And no, the Rebels couldn’t win Oklahoma’s District A-4.

Nor could the three-time defending Danish champ Copenhagen Towers, a brute of a team whose dominance is comparable to that of Ringling, Okla., USA, Larsen said.

Larsen’s Rebels, unbeaten at the time, lost Copenhagen, 28-20, in the 16U Danish National Championship last season. Neither one of them could beat Empire, he said.

“If they played us,” Larsen said, referencing his current club, Empire High School, “they would get beat. We have some good teams in Denmark, but the size and pace of the game is different. You have to step it up a gear. People here have a look in their eye.

“They take it seriously.”

Great Dane

Larsen hails from Kastrup, Denmark, a town of about 50,000 where soccer is king. Larsen never liked soccer. Too slow. Not enough physical contact.

But a game being played across the street from his house intrigued a 12-year-old Larsen, who, until then, had been a motorcross athlete.

But this new game, the one he was seeing just yards away from his yard ... it was interesting. The players were wearing pads and helmets, and it looked like you could hit people without getting into trouble.

It was Amerikansk Fodbold — American Football — just like he’d seen on TV and the Internet.

“I thought it was cool, but then I became skinny and more of a receiver kind of player,” Larsen said.

Larsen plays receiver and defensive back in Denmark. He’s also a receiver for Empire and leads the Bulldogs in touchdown receptions with 4. In addition, he’s handled the punting chores.

“We don’t have quite the spirit in Denmark that you have here,” Larsen said. “Here, we have stands and bands and cheerleaders. It’s just like it is in the movies. It’s awesome. At our games in Denmark, there are usually about 20 people there, including parents.”

Football is a club sport in Denmark. It’s not associated with school. Danes join teams for 12-and-younger, 14-and-younger, 16-and-younger, 19-and-younger, or senior league. The Senior League is like the Danish version of the NFL.

Leagues feature seven-man, nine-man, and 11-man football.

Danes pay a fee every six months to join and must purchase their own equipment. Players must find their own transportation to away games. And, “you can travel all the way to the other side of Denmark,” Larsen said.

The 10-game season starts in April and ends in October. Teams can go as many three weeks without playing a game, and practices are normally held just three days a week. There are usually two playoff games and then the Danish Championship.

Games are played on Saturdays and Sundays.

“I like the Friday night lights thing,” Larsen said. “I’ll miss that when I go home.” And he likes playing every week. “It gives me something to look forward to,” he said.

Before he left for America on Aug. 8, Larsen had played in four games for the Amager Demons. They were 1-3. When he returns to Denmark in May, the new season will already be underway.

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