By: Jonathan Okanes, calbears.com
BERKELEY – Six years ago, Jasper Friis didn’t look the part of a Cal student-athlete.
The youngster from Starnberg, Germany was struggling in school and didn’t know much about American football.
Now in February of 2018, Friis is an early enrollee at Cal as an intended Applied Mathematics major and getting ready to start his football career as an offensive lineman for the Golden Bears.
“I wasn’t much into sports,” said Friis, who picked up the game at age 12 and didn’t play his first organized game until he was 14. “I wasn’t really athletic, or I didn’t know I was athletic at the time.”
The son of a German-born father and Brazilian mom, Friis was born in London and lived there until the age of 3 when his parents, Svend and Erica, moved the family to Starnberg, which is about 17 miles southwest of Munich. As a young boy, Friis was more creative than he was athletic, often drawing for hours at a time or having friends over to play with Legos.
But Friis was a big kid, and ultimately tried his hand at football. He attended a local club practice and liked what he saw, and eventually started playing for the Starnberg Argonauts. Friis went on to play for three other club teams, and it became obvious that he not only was big enough to take his game to a higher level, but good enough.
One of Friis’ club coaches had come from the United States, and knew the coaching staff at Aquinas High School in San Bernardino. Two days after his 17th birthday, Friis was on a plane for the United States for his final two years of high school where he hoped, among other things, to secure a Division I scholarship.
“I think it was very brave of Jasper to leave his home two days after his 17th birthday and move all the way to California,” Svend Friis wrote in an e-mail. “I am extremely proud how he responded to the adjustment to the U.S. culture and school system, and the separation from friends and family. Jasper sacrificed a lot and committed himself seriously to his goal.”
It became apparent quickly that Friis may have a future in football, so he almost immediately started thinking about moving to the U.S. and earning a scholarship. But there was only one way his parents were even going to entertain that idea – Friis needed to start taking his studies more seriously.
“My parents told me I can’t go to the United States until I have good grades,” Friis said.
Friis made a turnaround in the classroom, and it made him want more. Suddenly, he sought out ways to become more academically challenged. When he eventually left for California, he had in his head that he wanted to find a high-level academic institution that also had a first-class football program. Cal went to the top of the list.
“It is a dream come true,” Svend Friis said. “One week before Jasper left for the U.S., we had a conversation that Berkeley represented the ideal in terms of combining excellence in academics and athletics. I have to pinch myself from time to time that he’s there.”
Staying with two host families, Friis shook off occasional homesickness to thrive at Aquinas. Because of the German connection to the coaching staff, there were a handful of other German natives on the football team as well. Friis made quick friends and was well received by the student body and surrounding community.
“He got involved in everything. He didn’t just hang out with the other German kids,” Aquinas head football coach Jordan Brusig said. “The kids around here took to him. Everyone opened their hearts to it. Jasper is just a great kid. I’m just so proud of all the adult decisions he is making.”
Brusig said Friis became the first student to graduate early from Aquinas. Friis is enrolled this spring and adjusting quickly to life as a Cal student-athlete.
“I’m adjusted to living in the United States,” he said. “I’ve even started thinking in English. Now, college is just another transition.”