From the Netherlands to Weed, California: This Dutch football player is right at home
Although he was born and raised in the soccer-obsessed country of the Netherlands, the sport never appealed to Ryan Ten Hulscher.
Instead, his obsession was with American football, as he watched his older brother play. By the time he was 11, he was playing the game. He liked the physicality of the sport and the close bonds he formed with teammates.
"I fell in love with it," Ten Hulscher said. "I realized it did not matter how big or strong you are. If you have the heart and passion for it, you can play and succeed."
Raised in the Dutch city of The Hauge, he said some friends and relatives thought it was a odd he did not show much enthusiasm for soccer.
In the summer, Ten Hulscher, 22, left his home country and arrived at College of the Siskiyou's in rural Weed, Calif. Less than a month later, the college freshman was suiting up in his football uniform to start in the Sept. 3 season opener against Diablo Valley.
Making an impact
Ten Hulscher, who is 6-foot-4-inch and weighs 245 pound, quickly impressed coaches and fellow players with his size, athletic ability, and commitment to perform at a high level. As a linebacker, he has become one of the Eagle's best defensive players and a valuable starter.
In only five games, he leads the team in solo tackles with 26 and in total tackles with 30, while averaging six tackles per game. Ten Hulscher also has three sacks, an interception, and a forced fumble.
On Oct. 2 at home, COS won for the first time 31-7 against West Hills Coalinga. He had his best game of the season, compiling 12 solo tackles and a sack.
Knudsen is ecstatic Ten Hulscher is a member of the Eagles.
"He is a great player and a really hard worker," he said.
Ten Hulscher said he likes the intensity and speed of the matches he's had because it pushes him to try harder.
"You always have to have your head on a swivel. They are way faster than they are at home. The players are bigger and are so good. You have to always be prepared."
An old connection
So, how did Ten Hulscher arrive at COS? Well, there is a Dutch connection.
When Knudsen was the defensive coordinator at West Hills Coalinga, he coached a linebacker from the Netherlands named Dylan Bakker. He went on to play at the University of North Dakota.
Bakker wrote to Knudsen in spring and said a player he knew of from the Netherlands wanted a chance to play football in the states, and he would be a good fit for the program.
Intrigued, Knudsen began corresponding with Ten Hulscher and offered him a chance to play for the Eagles.
For Knudsen, having players from a variety of backgrounds and different life experiences "is what a football team is all about."
It exposes them to other cultures and opens players' eyes, hearts, and minds to different ways of life.
"They realize when you get in the huddle, you're all the same," Knudsen said. "You all work together for a common goal and get to know one another. That's one reason why I love football."
Knudsen called Ten Hulscher, "a sponge" that came ready to work hard and take direction. He said he has adapted quickly to the American game and believes he can move on to an NCAA Division 1 school.
However, Knudsen said Division 1 schools typically don't come calling until the start of a player's second year, so he will likely have a decision to make at the end of the season. Does he stay at COS one more year and improve his stock, or move on to an NAIA or NCAA Division 2 or Division 3 school if they make an offer at the end of this season?
While Ten Hulscher has good natural ability and size, what makes him special is his willingness to learn and his drive to get better, Knudsen said.
"Ryan's very motivated and wants to improve every day," he said. "He's making the most of his opportunity."
Football in the Netherlands
Ten Hulscher played for The Hague Raiders, which plays in a top league. Still, it is an amateur football team full of players of all ages that mainly play for fun.
Ten Hulscher said while he enjoyed playing back home, the level of competition is not as high as it is in the United States. He said he just wanted a chance to see if he had what it took to play at a higher level.
After high school, while playing football, he worked in jobs as a manager in a bar and as an office worker, always holding onto his dream of playing football in the United States. When Knudsen called, he knew his chance had arrived.
It helped that his family fully supports him leaving home to chase his dream, he said.
"They are 100 percent behind me," he said. "They told me to do my best. I don't want to let them down."
Feeling right at home
Knudsen said that from the start, Ten Hulscher has fit right in. He said that he has a friendly and warm personality. Everyone wants to be around him, the coach said.
This is not Ten Hulscher's first time studying in the United States.
When he was 17, he was an exchange student in Kentucky. The experience helped him be more prepared for living again in the United States. He said the players and coaches at COS have been welcoming from the start.
He recalled the first day he arrived in Siskiyou County. A group of players took him to Walmart to get bedroom accessories, like pillows and sheets.
"They are just great teammates," Ten Hulscher said. "They helped me and made sure I had everything. They have really made me feel at home."
He is hopeful he will eventually transfer to a four-year school to study physical therapy.
Ten Hulscher has been impressed with his coaches and how thorough hey are with him in providing advice and drills to improve his performance.
For now, he is enjoying the season. He'll talk to his coaches about his future at the end of the season.
"It's a big commitment to come here," Ten Hulscher said. "It's a lot of money, so I want to make sure I give 100 percent and work hard every day. I am fully committed."
Bill Choy covers sports and general news for the Siskiyou Daily News/Mount Shasta Herald/USA Today Network. Follow him on Twitter at@SDNBillChoy. Email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org. Support local journalism by subscribing today.