by Marty Simpkins
FRANKLINTON — After losing two prolific goal-scorers to graduation last year, Franklinton Coach Isaac Welker needed to find some talent to spark his offense. Who would have thought that the player he was looking for came all the way from Berlin, Germany?
Leon Grunchmann (pronounced GROOK-MEN) is a junior foreign-exchange student who has found his way to the small town of Franklinton for one year, but Welker is hoping he can stay for two after seeing him perform so.
“Leon has stepped up,” said Welker. “He’s been a real solid replacement for those guys and he’s a nice player. We are very fortunate to have him.”
So far, Grunchmann has scored 13 goals and leads the 2A Northern Carolina conference with seven assists. His ability to make great passes and score from anywhere on the field has all come from just hanging out with his teammates and building relationships.
“We go eat something,” said Grunchmann. “I talk with the guys and build friendships and do stuff like that. I practice every day. I get with the guys and we pass the ball around and we play like a team and not just one player.”
Grunchmann has always wanted to come to the United States and learn the universal language of English so he could travel all around the world.
So far, he has had a pleasant experience, but he’s not that impressed with some things.
“I wanted to see your culture and really experience America,” said Grunchmann. “It’s fine, but I don’t like your fast food. The hamburgers are fine.”
Grunchmann may not like fast food, but he is picking up the sport of soccer pretty fast. The junior has been on this team for less than a year and he is already one of the
best players on the field. Welker has talked about his forward slowly coming around to playing his system of soccer.
“Soccer is the world’s game, so the language of soccer is pretty easy to communicate regardless of what country you’re from,” said Welker. “Leon has been good with giving suggestions at halftime and how we need to play. He’s given us suggestions on some changes that we might need to make. The language has not been a barrier, so he understands.”
Grunchmann has noted a lot of differences in the way Americans play soccer and how it is played in Germany, the defending FIFA World Cup champions.
“We have different practices in Germany,” said Grunchmann. “We run more and run back and forth. All we do is pass the ball and move. That’s how we play. Here it’s more about dribbling and more of a selfish kind of play.”
Like most young kids, Grunchmann sees soccer as more of a hobby than a lifelong commitment. He is unsure what his future holds.
Grunchmann left his friends, family and girlfriend (sorry ladies) to play for Franklinton High, which is something he can’t do in Germany. At their high schools, soccer is not offered and players have to sign up for after-school club teams.
So far, Grunchmann is enjoying the American experience and is excited about the future of the Red Rams as their season dwindles down.
“I like the team here,” said Grunchmann. “We score goals and win games and that’s fine.”