European coaches observing, partaking in American football

Dennis Svensson and Steeve Guersent are getting an up close and personal look at American football.

The two European player/coaches are spending a good deal of their vacation observing and coaching during University of Wisconsin-Stout’s preseason football camp.

Svensson is a native of Malmo, Sweden, but works in Denmark as a forklift operator and plays and coaches for the Amager Demons. Svensson is the team’s quarterback and works mostly with the offensive skills players, but has been known to get into the trenches with the offensive line.

Link to original story on University of Wisconsin-Stout website. The article has been reprinted with slight corrections.

Svensson, 26, began playing when he was about 15 years old.

“I was bored playing soccer,” Svensson said. “My brother, Jonas, started playing and he dragged me along.”

Guersent from France, is a player/coach for his hometown team, the Amiens Spartans, where he is the head coach and works extensively with the offensive linemen.

When asked his trade, Guersent, 29, replied that he is a full time football coach. He is employed by the Amiens team where he works the Spartans, their junior team and a youth program in the area. He is also a coach for France’s national football team, where he plays offensive line.

Guersent said football does not come close to the popularity exhibited in the United States. Soccer and rugby are two of the most popular team sports in France.

“Soccer and rugby both have professional teams,” Guersen said. “Football is not very popular. All of big guys play rugby. We have problems finding players, fields and money.”

While American football gets very little broadcast time in France, live video webcasts of the game are becoming more popular, Guersent said.

Svensson said football is becoming more popular is Denmark and the game is being shown on broadcast television more often.

Guersent said he was attracted to the game because it is a team sport that counts on individual accomplishments.

“The offensive lineman has got to beat the defensive lineman to help his team,” Guersent said. “The game is physical, but you also have to be smart.”

The men came to Stout on an open invitation from Blue Devils head coach  Clayt Birmingham. Birmingham toured Europe during the summer of 2008 with USA Football on a coaching and instructional tour to European youth, putting on workshops and clinics. Birmingham told participants if they ever wanted to come to the US to observe training camp, they were welcome. Svensson and Guersent, along with German native Thomas Zupon, took Birmingham up on his offer.

Svensson actually spent a week with the Stout program during October, 2008, and saw the Blue Devils play UW-Oshkosh. Svensson intends to stay through training camp and will leave after Stout hosts Simpson College, Sept. 5. Guersent has a more limited schedule, spending a week with Stout before leaving about Aug. 24. Zupon was in camp for the first couple of days before leaving.

Coach Duey Naatz and his staff have allowed the pair to conduct drills. Early Wednesday morning, Guersent was running drills with the offensive line, while Svensson was deep in the drills with receivers, backs and quarterbacks.

“We have more running backs here than we do in Sweden,” Svenson said. “Here, we can put the pressure on players to produce, because there is someone else who wants to play. Here, the players pay to play football. In Sweden, it is something they do in their spare time.

“It is fun to see the freshmen running around. I am not used to having 125 players around.”

Guersent asked plenty of questions:

“I am trying to pick up a lot from the coaches,” Guersent said. “I am looking at the organization of practice, the meetings, the schemes. I try to ask (the Stout coaches) the good questions. Why do you do that, or not do that.”

Svensson was impressed:

“This is one of the best group of coaches I have ever met,” Svenson said. “They let us in on everything. They let us discuss football with them.”

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