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German coaches study football at University of South Dakota

VERMILLION (AP) -- Waiting for South Dakota's football practice to end on a recent Tuesday, it was clear there were a lot of people walking around watching who are not usually at the DakotaDome.

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VERMILLION (AP) - Waiting for South Dakota's football practice to end on a recent Tuesday, it was clear there were a lot of people walking around watching who are not usually at the DakotaDome.

They were not NFL scouts, because those folks almost always wear something that has the logo of the team they work for. And they couldn't have been sports media types because their right and left socks matched.

No, this group of 15 had come from Germany and was in Vermillion to observe and learn more about American football,  the Argus Leader  reported. They had notebooks and only a few of them really looked like they might have played the sport in the past.

USD coach Bob Nielson goes way back with Germany and American football, it turns out. Since his days at Wartburg back in the 1990s when he took his team there, he's been part of an attempt to help the country learn and promote this quintessentially American sport.

"I go back with Martin Hanselmann 25 years," Nielson said. "He's become a good friend. He was one of the real pioneers of American football in Germany. Over the years I've been over there four times to speak at their coaches' convention. And five or six of our staff have been to the convention. Last year they had more than 300 coaches show up."

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Hanselmann, a former player in Germany, coaches the Wurzburg Panthers and has been coming to the United States with coaches since Nielson was at Minnesota Duluth. While the foundation of the sport is much different - Americans play most of their football in schools and it's a club sport in Germany - the fundamentals of blocking and tackling translate.

"Most of the coaches I bring over are impressed with the structure," Hanselmann said. "Sport in general is different in Germany with the club system. It's not so much the school system. With the exception of soccer, all the clubs in all the sports do it with volunteers at the start. If you make a special league, then you get a little money, but that's it."

Hanselmann is a past coach of the German national team and has coached several teams in the German Football League. The sheer number of players at a practice, perhaps more so than their size or speed, is a major difference between how an American 21-year-old experiences the sport vs. how it works in Germany.

"The coaches I have with me are most impressed with how you can handle more than a hundred players at a practice," Hanselmann said. "They're impressed with how you can have so many people doing so many drills and so many plays."

Germany has an estimated 500 football teams in total at various levels, with the GFL considered the top league in Europe. At the grassroots level, Hanselmann's efforts promoting the sport have made its mark.

"We have the NFL on TV and many people have ESPN," he said. "They can get special game passes and watch the games. That's getting more popular. We have some hype at the moment with American football. There are many people who want to play."

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