Germans Braun and Forstner lead Irish on and off the field
Leadership can come from very unexpected places. For the Irish, it came from across the sea.
Juniors Erich Braun and Adreas Forstner, both from Germany, lead the Irish both on and off the field.
Braun provides the offensive catalyst for a team that relies very heavily on its defensive strength.
"Erich is big-time in holding the ball," sophomore co-captain Greg Martin said. "It's probably one of the biggest things he does for us because it gives the offense, as well as the rest of the team, time to settle around him."
While Braun leads the Irish on offense, Forstner takes control on defense. Along with Martin and Griffin Howard, Forstner helps form the core the Irish defense.
"Andy is a great defender," fifth-year senior Howard said. "He is very vocal on the field for us and he always comes to play."
Wisdom comes with age
Braun and Forstner have much more in common than just nationality. They live together and each play important roles on offense and defense.
Even more, both possess something more important than any skill: age and experience.
Forstner will turn 24 in February and gained much experience playing against top competition in Germany.
"I think the age factor has helped us a lot," Forstner said. "It makes it much easier on us to come in as a freshman at 20 or 21, having already played against such talented competition in Germany. Our experience on the field before we came here allowed us to come in and play right away."
Braun is also older than most members of the class of 2003 at 22. He entered Notre Dame late due to the length of time Germans spend in school prior to college.
"The age difference has to do with the school system in Germany," Braun said. "We have 13 grades instead of 12, and afterwards everyone has to give a year of military or civil service. So that usually puts you at 19, 20 or even 21 before you can start college."
Speed, skill and smarts
Often considered one of the best forwards in the Big East, Braun is the central leader of the Notre Dame offense. Hindered by a hamstring injury last season Braun only played 13 games but still managed to be the team's second-highest scorer.
As a freshman, Braun was named Big East Rookie of the Year, becoming the first men's player at Notre Dame to earn one of the league's player of the year awards.
"Erich is an exceptional goal scorer," head coach Bobby Clark said. "He has a tremendous ability to get the ball in the net. He really has a great feel for the game."
Braun is known for his aggressive style of play and his desire to make something happen on offense.
"As soon as we go on offense, I want to touch the ball," Braun said. "I just want to get the ball and open up spaces and lay routes for the other guys to create goals."
Braun's effectiveness on the field comes from his experience and his sharp skills.
"Erich has knowledge beyond what most players of his level have," Martin said. "He uses his great vision to play the ball forward, and he sees things most college players don't. He plays a much more sophisticated style of game than most forwards at this level."
Forstner's teammates refer to him as The General. Maybe it's because of his age or maybe it's because of the great knowledge of soccer that he picked up from his years playing with some of the best talent in Germany.
"With his age, Andy has insight to the game that can only come through a couple of years in competitive play, especially abroad," Martin said.
But most likely, Forstner's moniker comes from the way he leads his team on the field.
"Andy is a leader for us on and off the field because he has such excellent leadership qualities," Clark said. "He is very vocal during the game. He has a lot of heart, and he always plays really hard."
"When I'm on the field, I'm usually very vocal, and I try to direct people around me to give them help if I can," Forstner said. "They say I keep everyone awake out there. I just want to do whatever I can for the team."
In addition to being a vocal leader, Forstner is the strength of the Irish defense. Last year, as a sophomore, he was named Big East Defensive Player of the Week twice and was a major factor in the team's six shutouts.
Their first year at Notre Dame was the first time either Braun or Forstner had been in the United States for any significant length of time.
Needless to say, they encountered a few more difficulties than the average freshman in adjusting to college life.
They had to handle the cultural changes of an international student coupled with the grueling schedule of student-athletes.
"Coming in as a freshman, it was somewhat difficult to get used to the society differences and language barrier," Braun said. "That first month or two was kind of difficult, but I think I have managed the change fairly well."
Another aspect of change that the two encountered was the differing attitudes of Americans and Europeans towards their sport.
In Germany it is the soccer matches that attract the capacity crowds, while in the United States the soccer team is lucky to have 1,000 fans in attendance.
"Back at home, soccer was the sport," Forstner said. "It was soccer and nothing else for us for a long time. It's kind of hard to get used to soccer not being the major sport like football or basketball."
With all the changes they have already met, Braun and Forstner still involved in an ongoing change — the change of Notre Dame's soccer program into one of the nation's elite.
Under first-year head coach Clark, the team is already seeing some successes and some failures. What's important, however, is the improvement in the level of play and the excitement of the players.
"We had a tough season last year as a team," Braun said. "I didn't play so well, the team didn't play so well, and a lot of things went wrong. But we are very excited about this year. Even though we've just come off of two losses, the team stood strong mentally and we are ready to go for this year."
All Sports Stories for Monday, September 17, 2001