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GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — In this small German town where soccer is king, U.S. soldiers and a group of local enthusiasts have banded together to form an American football team.

The Grafenwöhr Blitz, comprised of six Americans, mostly U.S. soldiers from the nearby Grafenwöhr Training Area, and 14 Germans has played three games this year in the Bavarian Aufbauliga for newly formed teams.

So far the Blitz has yet to taste victory, but it is not for want of trying. On Tuesday and Thursday nights, players assemble at an off-post sports ground and run through drills that just might provoke calls for an ambulance if they happened during the soccer practice next door.

The U.S. players are eager to pass on their knowledge of the game to the rookie Germans who are, for the first time, learning how to properly use their hands to block, tackle, catch and throw.

Chris Johnson, an American who coaches receivers and special teams, said 80 percent of the team’s players are new to the game, so the more experienced Americans play an important role.

“The Americans we have are extremely good players and we are happy to have them, and glad their units let them come to practices and games,” he said.

German player Daniel Hippel, a guard/defensive tackle from the nearby town of Erbendorf, found himself fast-stepping through a row of tires while two Americans bashed him with large blocking pads during a coordination drill on Tuesday night.

Hippel grew up playing soccer, but says he was always interested in the gridiron game. This is his first season of football.

In addition to learning about the sport, he is learning about his neighbors from the U.S. base. And they are learning about him.

“It is easier to speak to [American soldiers] than German people. They are very open-minded,” Hippel said.

Running back/receiver Matthew Carswell is a former U.S. soldier married to a German living in Weiden, near Grafenwöhr. He played football in high school but says this time things are different.

“It is a new experience [playing with Germans],” he said. “Some ask me what they should do [on the field] and I point them in the right direction.”

One of several Grafenwöhr-based U.S. soldiers at Tuesday’s practice, Mike Saltsman, 23, of Joppa, Md., serves with the 18th Combat Service Support battalion at Grafenwöhr.

“I’ve only been here three weeks, and already I’m playing tackle football,” said Saltsman, who recently moved from Kaiserslautern. “They didn’t have football in Kaiserslautern, or if they did it was a well-kept secret.”

The flag football offered on post by Morale, Welfare and Recreation has no appeal for the young soldier.

“I don’t like flag football ... because all you have to be is fast. In tackle football you have to be quick on your feet and take a hit.”

Eric Smithson, the team’s American assistant head coach, said the Blitz is the first American football team in the area. It quickly picked up sponsorship from Ed’s Bar in Grafenwöhr and Tanel 360, an American sports shoe company, he said.

The Blitz play a six-game schedule, with the next home game on Sept. 22 against the Augsburg Raptors at the Grafenwöhr Sportheim.

Anyone interested in playing football or learning more about the team should e-mail Johnson at: cljimages@hotail.com

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