Simon Sandberg was the “big kid” on athletic teams growing up in Sweden.
“I would always get carded in soccer,” said Sandberg, who also played hockey, another popular sport in his country, among others. “I would always get guys on the ground. I tried out football and really loved the physicality of it and just kind of stayed with it.”
Football is a growing sport in Sweden — and like most in Europe it is contested in clubs — but there are few opportunities there. Sandberg got introduced to football through his uncle, who played in a club.
Nine years later, Sandberg is playing major college football in the United States and hasn’t looked back.
A junior defensive lineman, Sandberg signed with Oregon State and enrolled in January after spending two years — and playing one season — at City College of San Francisco. He sat out last fall with a knee injury but still drew the attention of the Beavers’ coaching staff.
“We saw on tape that he was quick, explosive and really, really raw,” said OSU defensive line coach Legi Suiaunoa. “But he felt like he had enough there that we could get him here and we could develop him into a player we look for at Oregon State.”
Sandberg didn’t have the luxury of working his way into the Division I transition with spring practices because he was still recovering from his injury. But he used the time to soak in as much information as he could.
That’s translated into a good start to fall camp. In just a few practices he’s already caught the eye of his teammates.
“Simon, being the new guy, I’ve seen a lot of progress,” said fellow defensive lineman Elu Aydon. “Over spring ball, winter, conditioning, he’s done really good. He’s adjusted really well to our scheme and is someone coach Legi is looking to get a lot of extra reps from. We’re excited to see what he does for the team.”
Aydon says Sandberg, listed at 6-foot-3 and 271 pounds, fits the mold of a college football player.
“Of course. You see him. They call him Thor,” Aydon said. “He’s in great shape and I’m happy to have him on the team.”
Sandberg says there’s not one primary adjustment he had to make in the transition to living in a new country and to football here from the version he first learned.
He moved to San Francisco two years ago on the recommendation of a former club teammate who had player at City College.
Still, Sandberg was in a brand-new place, thousands of miles from home and surrounded by strangers.
“Lucky I had another guy who was Swedish with me from my club back home, so it was kind of easy to have that connection. Otherwise it was different for sure,” he said.
On the field, the kinesiology major says the pace of place was “way faster. Even at JUCO (junior college) it’s faster. From JUCO to here it’s another step, especially with the size here.”
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But his new position coach says he’s fitting in just fine and will contribute right away.
Sandberg’s biggest strengths, Suiaunoa said, are that he loves the game, improving and competing. Those qualities, along with his athletic abilities, give him a chance to be successful.
Suiaunoa adds that he’s a quick learner and is making good progress.
Where is there room for improvement?
“He needs to play as much football as he can,” the coach said. “Every day throughout camp is an important day for him. He’s got to treat it as if it’s a game. He’s got to make up some game experience.”
Sandberg showed potential in 2017 at City College, finishing the season with 20 tackles with eight for loss, including 3.5 sacks.
Last fall was hard, missing the entire season with injury.
“It was really rough there for a while,” he said. “Being in JUCO and wanting to get out and just having to rely on trying to get better. It’s hard seeing all my friends play while injured.”
But Oregon State saw from game tape the previous season what Sandberg could be. He was surprised when Beavers defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar visited him after a City College game last season.
Other schools showed interest, but he chose OSU after a visit to Corvallis.
Sandberg said he’s had to knock off some expected rust in returning to the field, but he’s having fun and loving the experience.
“Every day I’m still learning,” he said. “I’m so happy to have such good coaches as coach Legi, coach Tibesar and everybody and just be able to learn and pick up stuff. I’m still a student, that’s just how it is.”
He’s kept his goals short term, just trying to improve each day. His plans are to go to school and play football, doing the best he can in both and seeing where that takes him.
Sandberg says all the sacrifices of being away from those close to him the past two years have been worth it. It’s a time in his life that keeps on giving.
In two trips home since coming to the United States, he’s been excited to share everything he’s experienced.
“I’m happy to make my parents proud and my family proud of me playing college football,” he said.