Any football player not named Tom Brady knows time on the gridiron is limited. It, unlike golf or swimming, is not a “lifelong sport” due to its physical nature. Even if one survives the wear and tear of the bruises, nicks and injuries that pile up over a career, most are done after high school. A small percentage of high schoolers every year will go on to play collegiately. However, many will not finish their collegiate careers. And of those that do, only a fractional amount will go on to earn a paycheck playing the sport they love. Hans Solberg, a 2019 graduate, team captain and offensive lineman for the Concordia College Cobbers thought that his time battling in the trenches was done after he graduated. He would find out two years later that he was wrong.
This spring and summer, Solberg suited up for the Fursty Razorbacks, a professional football team located in Fürstenfeldbruck, Germany that competes in the GFL2, the second tier of the German Football League. Again, two years after he played a collegiate snap. That, in and of itself, is extremely impressive. The fact that he started every single game for a professional football team after two years off is even more impressive. But how the hell did he get there?
Hans Solberg is a self-described “late bloomer” however, nobody can dispute the fact that he grew a full inch during his senior season in high school (he actually tacked on another full inch in college as well). Despite his late progression, Solberg had a strong football resume coming out of high school.
As a freshman at Jordan High School in Jordan, Minnesota, Solberg was a captain and the MVP of the freshman team. In his sophomore season, Solberg was the MVP of his Junior Varsity team. In his junior season, Solberg started on a record-setting offensive line for the varsity team. And, as a senior, he was a captain and started on both offense and defense. However, despite his list of accomplishments, Solberg was lightly recruited coming out of high school, receiving only walk-on offers to a handful of Division II programs. So, he ended up choosing Concordia College, the school where he felt most welcomed.
During his freshman season, Solberg did not play much. However, he did travel with the team… and he grew another inch. In his second season with the program, Solberg started the second game of the season and the three subsequent games after that before suffering an injury. Once he returned from injury, he made an impact as a rotational player.
Still, with untapped potential, it was during his third year with the Cobbers that Solberg really solidified himself within the program, starting every game in his junior year. Then, he went on to do the same thing in his senior season, earning All-Conference honors as team captain.
Pre Professional Football
After graduating from Concordia, Solberg said he didn’t really consider football as much of an option as a player.
“I wanted to stay around the game, but I didn’t really think about doing it as a player much,” Solberg said. “My dad wanted me to give it a try. He wanted me to head to a couple of regional combines just to see if I could get an opportunity. I think he had more confidence in me than I did. I was just being realistic—I was coming from a Division III team where we ran the triple option. They throw it around even up in the Canadian Football League. I didn’t think I had a chance so I didn’t think about it much.”
So, wanting to stay around the game, Solberg began coaching as a volunteer at Concordia College, helping mold offensive linemen. But that wasn’t the only thing he was doing over the past couple of years. He also began a major body transformation that included boxing, bodybuilding and a marathon run. All in all, the former road grader dropped to 240 lbs a major change from the 310 lb and 285 lb frame he sported as a junior and senior within the Cobber football program.
Even though he didn’t look like your traditional offensive lineman anymore, this collegiate coach began thinking about returning to the trenches after talking to a mix of people in the program that knew people playing overseas.
“I learned that I had to go on this website called europlayers.com. I did that and just started promoting myself,” Solberg said. “They told me I should look into getting an agent, but I kind of just bet on myself and the tape that I had put out my senior year of college. I messaged and messaged teams until finally, I had one respond. Then, I had a second team respond and before I knew it, I had like five teams interested in me. I chose the Fursty Razorbacks because they just felt like the right fit to me.”
The Football Abroad Experience
Solberg had just finished running his first marathon when he started to seriously consider the possibility of playing for the Razorbacks. After finishing, he rested for a week and then started working with a personal trainer at Power By Design Fitness who helped him get back up to 275 lbs before going over to Deutschland.
In the home of brawts and beer, he was thrust into a fully padded practice on just his fourth day.
“I had had a chance to look at the playbook and felt fairly confident about it,” Solberg said. “But I get out to practice and everybody is speaking German. The only time English is being spoken is just to me. I felt like I was drinking from a fire hydrant.”
However, Solberg eventually knocked off the rust and assimilated himself into a schedule that included: an hour-long virtual meeting on Tuesdays, a two-hour practice on Wednesdays, a two and a half hour practice on Fridays and a game on the weekend, earning a starting spot on the offensive line along the way. As part of his contract with the team, Solberg also had a number of off-field responsibilities that he had to fulfill, after all, we aren’t talking about the glamorous life of someone playing in the National Football League where the minimum salary is $660,000 per season. These responsibilities included field maintenance and community outreach. The rest of the time, which Solberg claims he had plenty of, he was free to explore.
Learn more in the Q&A below!
What were those first few padded practices like with your extended layoff from the game?
At first I was like, ‘okay, I still got it.’ But then there would be some plays where I’m like, ‘holy crap, I’ve lost a few steps here.’ But I felt confident because I knew I was a good player.
And I knew I had more experience playing football than these guys. A lot of them are really good players, but I’ve been playing for a really long time. Most of the guys in the league have only been playing for a few years. I’ve been playing for 14. I knew I could outsmart a lot of them there.
What was the level of play like over there in comparison to what you’ve experienced in America?
People always describe it as being similar to Texas high school football. At first, I disagreed but then, the more I thought about it, the more I agree because Texas is known for pretty dang good football and they do have some pretty dang good football in Germany as well but it’s still like high school. What I mean by that is each team, like high school, has a few really dominant guys—a few really really good football players. Then, the rest of the guys are there for the love of the game and the love of their teammates—just like high school football.
I’m sure you just loved playing over there. I know you told me you even had a couple of chances to play defense.
I felt like a kid out there. Football is an emotional game and through the good and the bad, I had a smile on my face the majority of the time I was out there.
Can you tell me about some of the other responsibilities you had over there in addition to playing football?
Part of our job was promoting the team so we were given times to hang up posters around town. Which was cool because I had a chance to become very familiar with the town because of driving around and hanging up these big cardboard posters. We were also responsible for cleaning up all the trash on the field. Occasionally, we’d do some other odd jobs on the field like seeding the field and making sure the sprinkler system was working correctly. Then, there were other times where we had to go out and promote the team.
What did you do with your free time?
Travel! I went all over the place. I made it to Italy. I made it to Budapest, Hungary. I made it to Vienna, Austria. I made it to Paris, France. I even made it to a small country called Liechtenstein one time and then a lot of places all over Germany so I got very familiar with Bavaria, the state in Germany I was staying in. I got to see King Henry’s castle. I got to see the Coliseum. I got to see the Pantheon. I went on a lot of hikes. Where we were staying was right next to the Alps. Munich was about an hour train ride away. I made a lot of friends there and got to go to a lot of festivals.
How was food?
The food was delicious. It doesn’t have a lot of color to it, but it does have a lot of taste. Its a lot of meat and potatoes. You eat a lot of sausages, a lot of pork. I had so many Bavarian pretzels. They’re huge, they’re soft, they’re amazing. And I did drink a lot of beer, I’m not gonna lie. I’m surprised I didn’t get fat off beer. But I think I was just so active that it never caught up to me.
Are you going to try to keep playing?
I for sure plan on playing another season, somewhere else or even back in Fursty. I’m back in Fargo now and you’ll see me around Metroflex quite often if you go there. I’ll be getting ready for another season. I know I can’t do this forever, the money just isn’t good enough, but I’m going to have fun with it while I can.
Is there anything else you want to say for the article?
I just want to talk about how great the people were. The way they took me and the other imports in as family was one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced.
We did so many things because me and the other imports were just willing to say yes to everything because we wanted to have so many different experiences. We went to a hockey game. We went floating down a river. We’d go out to bars and go to festivals. We went to an FC Bayern Munich game, that was really cool to watch that type of crowd and see how big soccer is there.
So many of the players over there invited us over for meals and we really got to know their families. I also got to know a man named Larry Dixon pretty well. He coaches on the Razorback’s junior team, but he’s a college football legend. He has coached at places like Arkansas, the Dallas Cowboys and Notre Dame, and has worked in the Dallas Cowboys personnel department and as part of the NFL’s player development program in Europe. I went out to dinner with Larry so many times and he showed us so much of Germany.
Hans Solberg’s story is truly incredible, playing professional football after taking two years off. Let it serve as a reminder to never give up on your dreams.