Right at home
Dmirij Schleinin is attending school 4,800 miles from where he did last year, but playing on the De Soto soccer team has helped him feel right at home
They called him "Blitz," first just as a joke.
Dmirij Schleinin came to the United States in August. A German foreign exchange student, he was searching for a little bit of home and he found in the De Soto soccer team.
At first "Blitz" was just part of a light-hearted running gag about Schleinin's native country's role in World War II, but as the senior from Ronshausen, Germany, became more acclimated to America and the De Soto soccer team, he earned the name.
"He made a huge difference in our defense," Wildcat coach Darren Erpelding said. "He added so much speed."
Schleinin started the season slowly, but was logging significant playing time by the end of the year. He had to miss the final two games of the season because he long ago scheduled a sightseeing trip to New York City, and the Cats certainly felt the defender's absence, Erpelding said.
That was a long way from how Schleinin started the season, however. He never played organized soccer while growing up in Ronshausen, a small town just more than an hour north of Frankfurt and two-and-a-half hours south of Hamburg.
Not that he wasn't familiar with the sport, however.
"I played just for fun," Schleinin said. "I live in a little town and everywhere you have soccer fields. There are a lot of soccer fields because everyone plays, just for fun or on a team."
Playing for fun is a theme among all the sports Schleinin partakes in. He said soccer is far and away the most popular in the country, but NFL Europe has helped open European eyes to American football.
Although the Frankfurt Galaxy play just 100 kilometers away, Schleinin's football experience understandably differs from that of most American students.
"It's a special thing .We don't play it all the time," he explained. "It was a class about American games, football, I didn't know a lot about it. It was fun because it was different."
Schleinin tried the "different" sports in his American sports class, and also competed on a shooting team for a year and took part in kickboxing for two years.
He said he is considering trying out for wrestling over the winter, "It must be hard," he said, "but one of the coaches said I would be good at it, and I'll try it."
Schleinin also said he plans to try out for the track team in the spring, "because running is easy," he said.
For Schleinin, running is easy and eventually that's what helped endear him to the De Soto soccer team.
to the De Soto soccer team.
Without any organized experience, he was a much a student of the game in Kansas as he was in Germany, and he quickly proved that it's not all in the blood.
"He came in saying he wasn't very good, but he started out strong," Erpelding said. "Then he kind of tailed off a little bit, but at the end of the year, when he started getting a lot of playing time, he made a huge difference in our defense. His skill got better and not having him there for those last two games, you could really tell."
Soccer was a relief, Schleinin said. Starting a few days before the fall school term got underway, he had a chance to at least meet a few of his new classmates before the first day.
He made friends on the team, and the players embraced him, he said.
"They were kind of joking because I'm from a different country. They liked to joke about that, it's OK," he said. "Blitz, they call me Blitz."
"That came from (De Soto junior) Sam Wilcox," Schleinin said, smiling and sounding sarcastically thrilled about Wilcox's retention of history. "It's OK. I have different kinds of nicknames in Germany."
Adjusting to everything in America hasn't been easy, Schleinin said. Although he is fluent enough for almost any conversation, he said the language barrier frightened him at first and he was amazed at American cars, especially pickups which are rare in Germany.
He said he regrets not being there for his new team when it needed him, but he did learn a lot about New York City over the weekend.
"This is my first time in the United States and I wanted to see the big city and all the people," he said. "I don't really like big cities, there are too many people. The people there were not really nice."
But he's slowly adapted to the language, to the school and to the sports, and it started on the soccer field.
"He could mark a guy up and take a guy out of a game," Erpelding said. "His passing got tremendously better. His dribbling got tremendously better. That really showed, that's why he started getting more playing time.
"He was easy to work with. He'd get frustrated at times because he couldn't do some of the stuff the other guys were doing, but he was very coachable. He was great to have on the team."