Freddy Larsen is certain the Empire Bulldogs could win the national championship. The Danish national championship of American football, that is.
And Larsen should know. He’s played for it.
Before traveling 4,031 miles to bring his football talents to Empire as a foreign exchange student, Larsen roamed the gridiron for the Herlev Rebels, a team of 16-year-old or younger boys in Denmark.
And no, the Rebels couldn’t win Oklahoma’s District A-4.
Nor could the three-time defending Danish champ Copenhagen Towers, a brute of a team whose dominance is comparable to that of Ringling, Okla., USA, Larsen said.
Larsen’s Rebels, unbeaten at the time, lost Copenhagen, 28-20, in the 16U Danish National Championship last season. Neither one of them could beat Empire, he said.
“If they played us,” Larsen said, referencing his current club, Empire High School, “they would get beat. We have some good teams in Denmark, but the size and pace of the game is different. You have to step it up a gear. People here have a look in their eye.
“They take it seriously.”
Larsen hails from Kastrup, Denmark, a town of about 50,000 where soccer is king. Larsen never liked soccer. Too slow. Not enough physical contact.
But a game being played across the street from his house intrigued a 12-year-old Larsen, who, until then, had been a motorcross athlete.
But this new game, the one he was seeing just yards away from his yard ... it was interesting. The players were wearing pads and helmets, and it looked like you could hit people without getting into trouble.
It was Amerikansk Fodbold — American Football — just like he’d seen on TV and the Internet.
“I thought it was cool, but then I became skinny and more of a receiver kind of player,” Larsen said.
Larsen plays receiver and defensive back in Denmark. He’s also a receiver for Empire and leads the Bulldogs in touchdown receptions with 4. In addition, he’s handled the punting chores.
“We don’t have quite the spirit in Denmark that you have here,” Larsen said. “Here, we have stands and bands and cheerleaders. It’s just like it is in the movies. It’s awesome. At our games in Denmark, there are usually about 20 people there, including parents.”
Football is a club sport in Denmark. It’s not associated with school. Danes join teams for 12-and-younger, 14-and-younger, 16-and-younger, 19-and-younger, or senior league. The Senior League is like the Danish version of the NFL.
Leagues feature seven-man, nine-man, and 11-man football.
Danes pay a fee every six months to join and must purchase their own equipment. Players must find their own transportation to away games. And, “you can travel all the way to the other side of Denmark,” Larsen said.
The 10-game season starts in April and ends in October. Teams can go as many three weeks without playing a game, and practices are normally held just three days a week. There are usually two playoff games and then the Danish Championship.
Games are played on Saturdays and Sundays.
“I like the Friday night lights thing,” Larsen said. “I’ll miss that when I go home.” And he likes playing every week. “It gives me something to look forward to,” he said.
Before he left for America on Aug. 8, Larsen had played in four games for the Amager Demons. They were 1-3. When he returns to Denmark in May, the new season will already be underway.
A brother of a friend had been a foreign exchange student -- and Larsen has family in Utah. He knew of America and he wanted a change to play American football in the game’s home nation.
After he applied and was accepted as an exchange student, Larsen received a letter from his soon-to-be host family. The letter described the family and the area, and noted that there were two schools in the area -- Empire and Comanche.
Larsen’s host father, David Leu, is a fifth grade teacher at Empire Elementary School. So, Larsen moved from being a Great Dane to a fierce Bulldog.
The first thing Larsen noticed was the heat. The second was the intensity. Playing American football in America would be different than playing it in Denmark.
“In Denmark, the temperature stays about the same -- about 78 degrees,” Larsen said. “It was 100 degrees for our first practice here.”
Larsen said American offenses and defenses are similar to those in Denmark. American schemes are a bit more complicated, however. he said American coaches spend more time on their sport than do Danish skippers.
Larsen’s 6-foot frame has made him a favorite target for quarterbacks Tanner Shorter and Dillon Twigg. He made his presence felt almost immediately, catching a touchdown pass in Empire’s season-opening victory over Snyder.
He added TD catches against Dibble, Wilson, and Bray-Doyle. He saved his best game for last. In the regular season finale Friday at Bray, Larsen caught a 40-yard pass from Shorter on the Bulldogs’ first play. That set up a 6-yard scoring run by Shorter two plays later.
He was also on the receiving end of a halfback pass from Twigg that ended in a 23-yard TD. He finished with three catches for 91 yards.
The American game offers him more breaks than it does in Denmark. That’s because America has more American football players.
“We don’t have a lot of players in Denmark,” he said, “so you can end up playing a lot of places. The championship team I played for had 25 players, but we had 14 players for some games.
“One year I played center -- and I’m a skinny guy.”
A skinny guy with a wide breadth of experiences. Count Amerikansk Fodbold in America among them.
• vs. Snyder: 21-yard pass from Dillon Twigg, :11, 2nd Q.
• vs. Dibble: 20 pass from Dillon Twigg, :52, 3rd Q.
• vs. Wilson: 14 pass from Tanner Shorter, :00, 1st Q.
• vs. Bray-Doyle: 23 pass from Dillon Twigg, 1:37, 3rd Q
Larsen Receiving Stats
• vs Snyder: 1-21
• vs. Dibble: 2-50
• vs. Wilson: 1-14
• vs. Bray-Doyle: 3-91