By Jason Haddix
For The Herald Bulletin
PENDLETON, Ind. —
On the field, dressed in full pads, wearing the No. 82 jersey for the Pendleton Heights Arabians, Mats Klink looks no different than the player next to him, but when you speak to him, it is clear that there is a difference.
The 15-year-old junior foreign exchange student hails from Buettelborn, Germany, a town of 13,000 residents located about 20 miles southwest of Frankfort. Klink wanted to immerse himself in the culture so he could get the full experience of being an American high school student.
With athletics being a huge part of high school, it was only natural that one of the first people Klink spoke with at Pendleton Heights was athletic director and football coach John Broughton.
“When he first walked in the door, he said he wanted to play football,” Broughton recalled. “I said you mean soccer, European football.”
While Klink’s first language is not English, there was nothing lost in translation with his quick answer to Broughton’s inquiry.
“No, I mean American football,” Broughton said was Klink’s response.
While having a foreign exchange student on the team is nothing new at Pendleton Heights, what makes Klink different is playing time.
“We have had a couple kids that kicked at the junior varsity level, but I am not sure we have one start as our No. 1 kicker like he has,” Broughton said.
The desire to travel to the United States began five years ago for Klink after his brother returned home from vacationing in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
His process of becoming a foreign exchange student began in 2012. The year-and-a-half long process was complete when he arrived in the U.S. on Aug. 8 and was united with his host parents, Casey and Misty Hovermale.
Once Broughton got clearance by the IHSAA classifying Klink as a transfer student-athlete, his football career began.
Misty said Klink came with the intention of playing football, and just four days after arriving he was on the Arabians’ practice field.
Casey was a little concerned with Klink playing as he recalled that when he was in high school and played football there were a couple foreign exchange students on the team, and they did not mesh well with the other athletes.
In short time, Casey could see that was not going to be a problem for Klink.
“Mats made the transition really easy,” he said. “I just think there are a lot of great guys that are on the football team at Pendleton, and he was accepted right away. Within the first week of him being here, he was already asking to go and hang out with friends.”
Klink’s ability to fit in was not the only thing that impressed Casey, it was also his desire to learn the American culture and experience new things.
“I’m really impressed with him because when he first came here it would have been very easy for him to play soccer,” Casey said. “His thought process was that was something he could do at home.”
Going from a round ball to a pointed oval took some getting used to for Klink. With no experience, Broughton had few expectations and little hope Klink would play an intrical role in the Arabians’ season.
“We just let him piddle around with it, thinking there is not going to be any help here,” Broughton said. “He worked in the wide receiver and defensive back station. To get the experience, you need to be out here.”
But it was not long before Broughton saw something in Klink’s kicking ability that he felt could plug the hole at kicker left by four-year starter John Furrow, who graduated after last season.
It took Klink some time to understand the nuances of the game. His biggest hurdle was to adjust to kicking the oddly shaped football. Some of his experience in soccer transferred to football but not all.
“The rules in the beginning were very hard to understand,” Klink said. “Kicking is different, but not that much. The kicking for football is like kicking a wide pass for soccer. You have to get it high so nobody can touch it.”
How to approach the kick was the biggest of the adjustments Klink made.
Broughton said he has a very powerful leg, but his approach is different than what most kickers use. Klink takes two steps, whereas many kickers use a three- or four-step approach.
“It proves to us and I have said it all along,” Broughton said, “some of our kickers overthink the thing and take too many steps and step off all this fancy stuff — just kick the ball.”
Once he got comfortable with the form and gained more confidence in his ability, Klink impressed the coaching staff and worked his way to the top to the kicking depth chart.
“He just caught on to kicking the ball,” Broughton said. “He just kept getting better in the kicking drills, and he became by far the best kicker we got, and he earned a spot.”
During the second week of the season at Anderson, Klink got his chance and walked out on the field for the kickoff.
“I was very excited,” he said. “The first kick, I wasn’t very sure I could do it. I was a little scared about it.”
With the adrenaline flowing, Klink boomed the first kick over 60 yards, resulting in a touchback.
“It was pretty good for a first kick,” he said.
With the Arabians’ offense clicking, Klink had five opportunities to kick point-after tries and was successful on four of them. One was blocked. Pendleton Heights won the game 34-12. That failed extra point is his only miss of the season.
Klink’s parents have not been able to make the long journey to see their son play in person, but they have gotten to see him play on video.
He admitted his mother was apprehensive at first about him playing football. As with many mothers, the fear of injury was in the forefront of her mind.
“My mom is a little bit scared about if I break my bones because of a tackle,” Klink said. “But my father and brother think it is pretty cool.”
As Klink stands on the sideline, he takes in the environment and atmosphere surrounding him.
“Because of the team and the fans who are coming on Fridays, it is very, very cool,” Klink said. “It is not like that in Germany.”
Klink said football is more of a club sport at some schools near his hometown, but it is not nearly as popular as it is in the states.
“It makes you a part of something,” Klink said of being involved in high school sports. “It is very important to be a teammate. It helps you find friends easier.”
While the Arabians are nearing the end of a less than stellar season with few memorable moments, Klink’s progress as an American football player will standout for him and those who got to know him.
“He goes to work everyday and gets his job done,” Broughton said. “He has been a real big plus for us.”