It’s called the world’s game. And after studying in Germany twice, Heidelberg senior Erik Furst understands why.
Furst is a diminutive, yet fierce fixture on the back line of the Heidelberg men’s soccer team. Listed as 5’7”, Furst defends opponents with the tenacity of a man much taller, blocking shots and winning balls out of the air.
His love for the game of soccer was developed early in life. The Columbus native has played the sport since he was barely old enough to lace up his own cleats.
As a student at Upper Arlington High School, Furst found a passion for the German language and culture. Upon visiting Heidelberg and learning about the American Junior Year program, he was intrigued.
“Things just fell into place,” said Furst, a German language major.
Because soccer is a fall sport, Furst chose to split his yearlong study abroad experience into two spring semesters. He went as a sophomore, and again as a junior.
“It was interesting splitting it up into two semesters,” said Furst. “I was able to explore Germany a lot on that first semester and I mostly hung around with other American students.”
But for his second stint, he took a different approach. A friend from his first semester encouraged him to reconnect with friends he had met at a weekly pick-up soccer game.
“Wherever you go, there is always someone playing soccer -- whether on the Neckarwiese, a park along the river, or on soft rubber gummi platz fields,” said Furst. “Everyone is playing there, so you can meet a lot of cool people through sport.”
Furst’s group of soccer-playing friends was comprised of players from around the world, including Palestine, Greece and Spain.
“It was great to see different perspectives of the world -- beliefs, ideas, different cultures,” said Furst. “It was cool to see the mixture of the different styles of soccer -- guys from Africa, South America and different parts of Europe. And because we would pick random teams each week, you really had to pay attention to your teammates and their tendencies.”
This season is the final campaign for Furst, who has seen the best of times and the worst of times in his career with the Tricolor. He was a starter his freshman year in 2010, when the team won its only OAC crown. As a sophomore, the team struggled to find a rhythm on offense and finished last. A season ago, the Student Princes rebounded and qualified for the OAC tournament, where they lost to national runner-up, Ohio Northern.
With his senior season off to a great start, the humble defender is quick to heap praise upon 25-year head coach Dr. Brian Haley and his teammates.
“Coach Haley is definitely a role model,” said Furst. “He’s passionate about the game and he wants everyone to improve as players and as young men.”
Haley, though, praised his captain.
“Erik prepares the team with great speeches before the games. His speeches refer to history and philosophy, and the connection he makes to playing are quite unique,” said Haley. “He motivates them though his actions -- the most powerful way in which anyone can motivate others.”
That appreciation for the mental aspects of soccer was born on the fields in America, but nurtured on the Neckarwiese in Germany.
In fact, the Germany is such an important part of Furst’s love of soccer that he will occasionally communicate with goalkeeper Matthew Stevens auf Deutsch during matches. Stevens, a junior from South Lyon, Mich., took part in Heidelberg’s Summer Program in German and European Studies.
“Sometimes, if I’m not looking at him, I’ll say, ‘Do you want the ball?’ and he will respond,” said Furst.
And while Furst is still exploring different career options to pursue after graduation in May, fussball und Deutschland are sure to play a major role.