A foreigner can learn to say â€œhello,â€ ask for directions and even name a few U.S. politicians, but if the word â€œtouchdownâ€ isnâ€™t part of their vocabulary, American culture may just as well be lost in translation.
CSU international students gathered Friday evening in the International House Lobby for the third annual Football 101 class taught by Gary Ozzello, the universityâ€™s senior associate athletics director.
â€œSometimes I take for granted that everyone knows football,â€ Ozzello said. â€œThis is one of the most fun things I do all year.â€
Preparing attendees for the following dayâ€™s game against the University of Northern Colorado, he armed the group of students with knowledge of the Ramsâ€™ starting lineup, positions, plays, terminology and annual Ag Day festivities.
â€œIâ€™m here mostly because I wanted to go to the Ag Day game,â€ said Chen Hong, a Chinese masterâ€™s student in second language teaching. â€œI just need to learn the rules first and why players are always running around and then falling down.â€
After students took their seats, the excited buzz of intermingled foreign tongues quickly hushed as a football was passed around the room.
â€œI canâ€™t even hold the football in my hand,â€ said Laura Galadauskaite, a Lithuanian masterâ€™s student studying accounting, as she marveled at the pigskin balanced in her small hand. â€œBut he [Ozzello] did say these guys were 300 pounds.â€
A large video screen was showing past games as Ozzello pointed out key plays and explained formations, passing patterns and point systems. Tackling proved to be the primary interest for many of the students. Chuckles rippled throughout the room as the screen showed players being pummeled into the ground time and time again.
â€œI watch a lot of rugby, which has a similar concept of tackling,â€ said junior sociology major Courtney Harrison from Binfield Heath, England. â€œIn rugby, though, itâ€™s less direct; football hits are so hard.â€
Many of the students drew parallels between their homelandâ€™s national sports and this introduction to football (not to be confused with the real futbol, as many pointed out). Students questioned Ozzello about footballâ€™s similarities to soccer, rugby and cricket as a way to better relate to a sport many had never watched before.
Ozzello even admitted his respect for New Zealandâ€™s national sport in response to a studentâ€™s comparison of padding used in the two games. Rugby players use significantly less.
â€œHoly cow, youâ€™ve got to be a lot tougher to play rugby,â€ Ozzello said.
Although they still may not understand the meaning of â€œblue 42â€ or if sacking someone is good or bad, the students related to the underlying principles of college football, culture, community and school pride.
â€œNo one cares about anything more than basketball in Lithuania,â€ Galadauskaite said. â€œIâ€™m a huge fan. I was always the one with flags painted on my cheeks at all the games.â€
To her, college sports represent involvement in something bigger, something exciting and something new. She craved to be a part of â€œthe football game, the crowd and the cheering.â€
The lesson wrapped up with talk of Ag Day festivities and the upcoming game many students would all be attending as a group. Tickets were handed out and a sea of newly inducted Ram football fans enveloped the free t-shirt table.
â€œIt energizes me to see a unique group of students so excited about Ram pride,â€ Ozzello said. â€œI hope they feel the community spirit and can communicate the enjoyment of this one part of American culture to their families back home.â€
Collegian writer Colleen Canty can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.