Exchange student del Baño learns soccer at Mayo High School – Post Bulletin

ROCHESTER – Four months ago, Ruben del Baño had never set foot on a soccer field.

He never watched American football and knew nothing about the sport.

The exchange student from Murcia, Spain, arrived at Mayo High School in August. A school counselor asked del Baño what extracurricular activities he would like to participate in.

He looked at cross country, a sport “I’ve never done in Spain,” del Baño said. “So I thought, ‘I should try that.'”

This idea was short-lived, and del Baño eventually decided to join the football team.

He plays rugby at home in Murcia and although the rules differ significantly between sports, American football and rugby are played similarly with physicality being a necessity in both sports.

While there are similarities, del Baño said he knew he was in for a learning curve. He knew he wasn’t going to play much because “the goal was to learn football,” he said.

And he picked a good team to learn with — Mayo won 9-2 this season to reach the Class AAAAA quarterfinals against Big Southeast District rival Mankato West. The Spartans put up a good fight but ended up losing 20-17 in the final seconds.

Del Baño had to climb a tough hill to learn the game: The Spaniards don’t watch much, if any, American football, he said. Del Baño said football and tennis are widely watched in his hometown. Basketball is occasionally on TV, but not football.

“The first game I watched was the day before I joined the team,” he said.

In addition to learning the game, del Baño also had to adjust his perception of what Mayo’s drills would look like.

“Here they take it much more seriously than in Spain,” he said. “In Spain it’s rugby two days a week, just two hours, and then I lift because I like to lift. But if you don’t go to practice here, it’s like, ‘Oh, you didn’t come to practice. You’re not going to play.’”

Del Baño played in two games for Mayo this season. One of his appearances was for a field goal in the fourth quarter in the September 16 game against Century. All eyes were on him, making for a memory on the field that del Baño will not forget.

In another appearance, del Baño entered the field for a kickoff. Instead of a traditional football kickoff, he performed a dropkick, which “was clean,” Mayo coach Donny Holcomb said.

Along with the experience of playing an unfamiliar sport in a country that was new to him, del Baño was also exposed to new people and new traditions.

Experiencing a new culture is one of the greatest incentives to study abroad in high school. In Rochester, more than 4,500 miles from home, del Baño learned all about what “America is really like,” he said, from friends including soccer players Ethan Kramer, Tore Papenfuss and Brig Poppe.

“They are very good friends to me,” del Baño said. “I am very grateful to them. They bring me to HuHot, some typical things people do here. I think they gave me so much here.”

Holcomb said he thinks Del Baño “added to the high school experience for the other kids and coaches” in Mayo.

“He was respected and loved by all the kids,” Holcomb said.

Del Baño jumped feet first into the American high school experience. Part of that experience was a Mayo tradition: before the start of football season, the cheerleaders crowd the football players’ homes, and the football players reciprocate.

Del Baño had never seen anything like it.

“It was so funny,” he said. “It was a very good moment between us.”

This teepee tradition was just one of a handful of moments del Baño first experienced as part of the Mayo football team.

“I think he’s had a great experience with high school football,” Holcomb said, “and with the positive culture that comes with high school.”

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