Touchdown: American football
Israeli student realizes dream of playing for a U.S. college
Erez Kaminski is getting the perfect balance between competitive athletics, academic rigor, and cultural exploration as he lives out his dream of playing football in the United States.
Photo by Cari Dean
The freshman physics major from Haifa, Israel, caught his very first glimpse of the Birmingham-Southern campus on Aug. 8—the day he arrived from overseas to begin practice as a left tackle and offensive lineman with the junior varsity team.
"My first thought was that it is such a beautiful campus," he recalls. "It is the best I've seen so far."
This is not Kaminski's first time in the U.S. He got a first-hand look at American culture at age four when his family moved from Israel to Miami so his mom could complete a two-year fellowship at the medical campus of Miami Dade College.
Since then, he's logged many travel miles in his life, including trips to visit his mom in England during her teaching stint to personal travel in other parts of Europe. But a chance connection between a coach in Huntsville and a coach at BSC is what sent him packing for Birmingham.
Kaminski had sent a highlight video of his football skills in the Kraft Family Israel Football League to several American colleges and universities he picked out on the Internet. His home league began with a few men, ages 17-42, playing in a field or a school yard, and now consists of a thriving athletic community of more than 500 players countrywide, with interest in the sport growing.
"None of the U.S. schools I communicated with had even heard of the league, and no one responded until my video got passed off to the football coach at Madison Academy in Huntsville," he says. "The coach conducts football clinics in Israel, and he got in touch with BSC Assistant Coach Dyer Carlisle who recruits student-athletes. After hearing about what a great school Birmingham-Southern is and reading about the college on its website, the choice was easy."
Kaminski's parents were supportive of their son's endeavors. After combining his money with an International Partnership Scholarship he received from Birmingham-Southern, he was ready to go, hopping on a plane to Atlanta and then on to Birmingham to fulfill his dream five years later of playing football in the U.S.
"I wanted to play football at a bigger and harder level than back home," says Kaminski, whom Head Coach Eddie Garfinkle describes as an aggressive player on the field. "Football is fairly new in Israel and not as developed as it is in the U.S. We have eight players on the field, and many of the men have no prior knowledge of the game."
Before deciding to enroll in college just a year ago, Kaminski served in the Israeli Defense Forces to fulfill his three years of mandatory military service. Along with hundreds of other young Israelis, he learned one-on-one combat, top-of-the-line weaponry, how to march with gear, and grew accustomed to sleeping outdoors on the ground. After a time, he was promoted to staff sergeant, leading a team of 36 men.
"My unit specialized in complex and urban territories," says Kaminski, whose demeanor turns a little more serious. "It was founded to stop terrorist attacks on civilian populations."
Living in Israel, a hotbed for conflict, Kaminski remembers 2002 all too well—the start of the terror wave of suicide bombings. He says he's been close to violence in civilian life, but not face-to-face.
"My favorite restaurant was blown up, and a bomb went off less than a kilometer from my house," he tells. "Being in leadership in the IDF really helped me mature as well as adjust to being away from home. "But it was the most difficult experience of my life, and it still leaves me with pressure. I can be called back to fight in a war in Israel at any time until I'm 45."
Despite the age gap between he and his classmates, Kaminski is comfortable at BSC and says he has adjusted well. Like most student-athletes, his schedule is filled to the brim. When he has the chance, he likes to spend time with his friends, perhaps at one of the local malls or at a favorite restaurant such as The Fish Market.
"The vegetables in the U.S. have no real taste," he says smiling. "They are much more flavorful back home.
"Southern hospitality though is something special here. People hold the door for you, and it's common for people to talk to you on the street. Israel and America are actually close in a lot of ways. The world is smaller with the influence of TV, radio, and the Internet."
With a passion for physics stemming from his first book on the Big Bang Theory, Kaminski has no intention of losing momentum as he pursues football and academic success at BSC. He deals with the occasional struggles that all freshmen go through like writing reports and essays.
"The professors at Birmingham-Southern are welcoming and helpful," he states. "I can go and ask them questions when I need to, and when I have problems writing my papers in English, they help me out. In Israel, everyone learns English from third to 12th grade. We finish college in less time though, between 2-3 years."
Kaminski has used Skype, Facebook, email, phone, and text to communicate to family and friends back home about his experiences. He plans to return to Haifa, the third largest city in Israel, during the summers. One of his two sisters lives in Delaware.
After he graduates from BSC, Kaminski is thinking about attending graduate school for a second degree in either physics or business, and afterward, managing a science and technology company either in the states or back home. In the meantime, it's certainly a new era in BSC sports with increasing globalization and an international player.
"I'm here to learn everything I can about American football," he says. "We have a great team and I've made a lot of friends.
"I really didn't think this could ever happen to me. But my dad told me, 'What the heck will you lose by trying?' Now the things I've envisioned, I'm actually experiencing."
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