Mexican foreign exchange student making impact in Idaho high school

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CALDWELL — Andreas Begne wasted no time when he stepped off the airplane.

The high school junior arrived in Idaho from Mexico City on a July afternoon, ready to embark on a year-long foreign exchange program. Later that evening, he was running plays under center as a member of the Caldwell High football team.

It immediately became clear to the Cougars that they had found their quarterback.

“His first day he came here, he already knew all the plays and formations,” said senior tight end Ryan Barton. “I thought it would take a little longer, but he knew everything when he first got here.”

It’s been a little over a month since Begne joined the Cougars, and already he has transformed their offense. Through two games Begne has struggled a bit, throwing for 279 yards and a touchdown, as the Cougars have started 0-2. But despite the early season struggles, he gives the Cougars a whole new look to their offense.

“It’s a whole different experience to what I’m used to,” said Begne. “It was really fun, the environment, the people, the players how they’re really hyped before a game. All the pregame stuff, it’s really, really cool.”

Begne’s arrival not only gives the Cougars a pocket passer to lead their offense, it also allowed Chase Burfeind, their starting quarterback for the past two seasons, to move over to wide receiver, his natural position. The hope, for Caldwell coach Zac Farnam, is that with a reinvigorated offense, the Cougars can have have better results than they had with their 1-8 record last year.

For Begne, he’s just happy to be playing the sport he loves in a country where it is king.

“It’s way different trying to adapt to a different environment,” Begne said. “It’s not easy, but I really wanted to do this and I’m so happy to be here, so excited.”

Photo: Bryan Myrick, Idaho Press

FOOTBALL NOT FÚTBOL

Like many young boys in Mexico, Begne began his athletic career playing the nation’s most popular sport. But around the age of 6, he said he started getting bored with soccer and had his eye on another sport.

Begne started watching football games on television and knew it was something he wanted to try. His father, Octavio, is a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, and Andreas picked that up from him. Watching his favorite player, former Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, got the younger Begne hooked.

He hasn’t given up the love of football since.

“I love watching football games, it’s pretty much the only thing I watch on TV,” Begne said. “From high school games, to professional games, I’m always either watching replays or live games. I really like watching football games and it was a passion for me. I was intrigued to play football.”

After begging his parents, who he says were concerned about the safety aspect of the sport, Begne was finally allowed to begin playing football at the age of 7.

Begne fell in love with the quarterback position, which he said he has played ever since starting the sport. The leadership role is one thing which drew him to the position. Of course, the mechanics of the position didn’t deter him, either.

“I really like to throw,” Begne said. “I don’t like to run a lot. I’m slow, maybe that’s why.”

He played for a club team in Mexico City’s top league last season, leading the Redskins Football Club to the league semifinals.

But after the season, he decided he wanted a new challenge.

LANDING IN CALDWELL

Begne said learning about a different culture was what initially drew him into the foreign exchange program.

Learning how life is both similar and different in the United States from how it is in Mexico fascinated him. The idea excited him so much, that he was willing to go just about anywhere, provided there would be an opportunity to play football.

“The program allows you to choose a place,” he said. “But I was so open minded, I said ‘place me anywhere you want.’”

That place happened to be Caldwell. Almost immediately, he got in contact with Farnam through Facebook, inquiring about playing opportunities.

“I just messaged him and told him ‘I’m an exchange student, I want to play football,’” Begne said, “‘If you give me the opportunity to play for you, I’m going to be more than excited.’”

Begne is not the first foreign exchange student to play for Farnam. When the coach has one that reaches out to him, he is more than happy to give them a spot on the team. Farnam believes being able to be a part of a football team is a great experience for any foreign exchange student while they explore this country.

Usually, he said, he doesn’t expect that they will help the team much. But after watching film the Begne sent him, Farnam knew he had something special coming in. Talking to Begne more only confirmed his beliefs.

“When I sent him our playbook, he was sending me back questions weekly,” Farnam said. “High-level questions inside our playbook that even a lot of our kids don’t understand. So I knew right then he was going to show up ready to go.”

The night he arrived in Idaho, the Cougars were returning from a team camp at Eastern Oregon University. The next day they were scheduled to participate in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl 7-on-7 Passing Tournament.

Farnam called a team practice that night to get his quarterback acquainted with his new teammates before they competed together.

“We wanted to have one little practice with him, see how he was,” Farnam said. “He showed up and got in the huddle and called plays and he knew exactly what his reads are, what his progressions are. It was pretty impressive.”

SHIFTING ROLES

Perhaps the strongest statement of Begne’s skills is the fact that he shares the huddle with the Cougars’ starter from the past two seasons.

Burfeind had been Caldwell’s starter in 2016 and 17 more out of necessity than anything else. His natural position is at wide receiver, and that’s where he is being recruited at by colleges. So when Begne signed on to play, Burfeind was happy to switch roles for his senior season.

“At first I was shocked that we actually got a foreign exchange student that plays football, from Mexico,” Burfeind said. “I saw his highlight reel, and I was pretty excited to see that he could throw it, he could sling it around and I could move to wide receiver and play what I want to play.”

In addition to becoming a passing target, the move also allows Burfeind to play cornerback on defense. Last year, Farnam said, he kept Burfeind off the defensive side of the ball in order to avoid injury.

Since Begne’s visa is only good for one year, Farnam said he might have struggled with the decision to move him away from the quarterback position had Burfeind been an underclassman and in line to return under center next season.

But with a couple of developing quarterbacks already in the program, he saw the opportunity for Begne to bridge the gap and not have to force a younger quarterback to start at the varsity level, while allowing Burfeind to play his preferred position.

“The fact that you can bring a quarterback in that’s equally as good, if not better, than the guy you had starting at quarterback from last year and move him to another spot, one, it speaks volumes about Chase being able to do that,” Farnam said. “And then two, a guy like that being able to come into a program where you know there’s an ex-starting quarterback in the huddle with you, we haven’t skipped a beat.”

FINDING HIS PLACE

It’s been more than a month since Begne joined the Cougars, and he’s fit right in with the team.

“He’s a funny kid,” Burfeind said. “He gets along with everyone, everyone likes him. I’m pretty sure he likes the team and the program he’s at. He’s very humble, he’s not really cocky and he’s just a pretty cool kid.”

There are a few differences he’s noticed so far, the biggest being the time commitment required to be successful here.

“They dedicate a lot of time,” Begne said about his teammates. “They are so passionate about this game. Really it’s different, having two practices a day, meetings, trying to put everything together. It’s amazing.”

Both Begne and Farnam note that there isn’t as much running done in practices in Mexico as there is in the United States, so the conditioning drills can get tiresome sometimes.

But the coach said that Begne has done everything he has been asked since arriving with the team and hasn’t seen any quit from his quarterback.

From Begne’s point of view, if that is what is required to live his dream, he’s going to put in whatever work is required to get there.

“Having an opportunity start for a varsity team in American, it’s amazing,” Begne sums up.

Read original story IdahoPress.com.

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