How Bernhard Raimann's Foreign Exchange Year Put Him On A Path To The NFL – And Made A Lasting Impact On The Family And Town That Hosted Him -

How Bernhard Raimann’s Foreign Exchange Year Put Him On A Path To The NFL – And Made A Lasting Impact On The Family And Town That Hosted Him

It wasn’t just that Raimann was a perfect fit for the Ferris family. He was a perfect fit for Delton.

And that’s not how you might envision things going for a European high schooler spending a year in a small, rural, blue collar town in the United States.

“When people think about an exchange student from another country, Austria, coming in, like the kid was from a silver spoon family and everything was just kind of handed to him and that’s not the case at all,” Bates said. “Bernhard comes from a middle class, working family. Bernhard is as blue collar as they come.

“I think that’s why, when he came here, he fit with our kids who come from millwright families, come from the trades, who come from farming communities and builders — he fit right in with those guys because that’s who he is, a blue collar guy. He’s unbelievably intelligent, but that’s not — he hangs his hat on his work ethic. So he fit in here.”

The day after Raimann arrived in the United States – after gorging himself at Red Robin and seeing the football stadium – he went to work at a construction site for Ferris Family Construction, Rollie’s construction company. Raimann quickly took to enjoying the work. It reminded him of home, in a way.

“Getting to go to the construction site every weekend with (Rollie), he didn’t only teach me some really helpful, handy skills,” Raimann said, “but from a character perspective, working hard for the people you love.”

Unsurprisingly, having a strong 6-foot-6 guy helped Ferris Family Construction build a few houses, too.

“We’re on a job, we’re putting up a staircase. I’m 6-foot-3 and I’m on a baby ladder, my kids are all on ladders, the homeowner’s on a ladder,” Rollie recalled, “and he’s just standing flat on the ground holding the thing up.”

Imagine being a 5-foot-5 high school defensive player, weighing maybe 150 pounds, staring down a long-striding tight end who’s over a foot taller than you and weighs about 70 more pounds than you do.

Tyden remembers the look on those kids’ faces as Raimann squared them up at full speed.

“You pull around the corner and there’s an undersized linebacker on the other side who’s up from JV the week before,” Tyden said, “and is like, what am I doing here?”

Raimann quickly established himself as a dominant force on both sides of the ball in the Southwestern Athletic Conference Lakeshore – the kind of guy who opposing coaches would rave about to Bates after games.

And sometimes, those coaches would confide in Bates how difficult it was to convince their players that they’d be alright going up against Raimann.

“It’s a small-town conference,” Tyden said. “It’s a bunch of farm schools. Already, every team’s got no more than 30 people on it so they don’t really have the depth in their team to have big players. So a lot of times they’ll throw a kid who’s 160 pounds on the D-line who has no business being there, or they’ll throw a 280-pound kid on the D-line but whose body hasn’t developed at all, he’s 280 pounds in the wrong way.

“So the competition wasn’t the hardest in our conference. So he was really able to dominate. If we were playing better teams he still would’ve dominated, but he definitely was not in the athletic level that he deserved to be in.”

Raimann mostly played tight end in Dalton-Kellogg’s run-oriented Power-T offense, which meant he often functioned as an extra tackle on the end of a formation. On defense, Bates played Raimann all over — defensive line, linebacker, cornerback, usually depending on the matchup.

Raimann’s attitude was: “I’ll play wherever you want me to,” Bates said, “I just want to play.”

Armed with a hyper-athletic, lengthy future NFL player in Raimann and a solid college prospect in Tyden, Dalton-Kellogg ended its 16-year playoff drought in 2016. After Dalton-Kellogg won a game that clinched a spot in the Michigan playoffs, the team returned to town to a welcome straight out of one of the movies Raimann watched back in Austria: Emergency vehicles blaring sirens and the whole town lining the street to welcome their boys back.

“You could see that thankfulness in his eyes,” Bates recalled. “He was just thankful to be in the moment. He never asks for anything, he never accepts anything that he didn’t work for. It just seemed like he was so thankful to be there.”

A little while after Raimann figured out he could not only compete, but dominate, the level of competition he faced in the United States, he went to his first big-time college football game at Michigan State. As he soaked in the atmosphere — the marching band, the chants, the game — he realized something.

He could play at this level, too.

“I was like, okay, it’s a dream,” Raimann said, “but now it’s also turning into a goal that’s actually within reach, and I feel l can do this and I can work for it.”

Raimann went to his host family and asked if he could start attending Saturday camps, and after the season participate in winter and spring seven-on-seven leagues. He was already participating in wrestling and track. Among other track events, Raimann ran hurdles – “He didn’t even have to jump,” Bates laughed, “he just glided over them.”

But Raimann wanted to hone his craft as a football player; in turn, those camps and leagues would give him more opportunities to get noticed by college football programs. It would take plenty of driving and plenty of time, but Raimann felt like it would be important for his development.

It didn’t take much convincing for the Ferris family to oblige.

“If you’re going to play Friday night, it’s worth doing right,” Rollie said. “So let’s play on Saturday.”

Foreign exchange students are not allowed to drive, so Marie drove him across the Midwest to every camp he could possibly attend — skill camps, big man camps, you name it. He joined a seven-on-seven league and went on a number of recruiting visits — including two in one day, first to Ferris State in the morning and then over to Grand Valley State in the evening. It was a lot of driving, a lot of time spent in the back of Marie’s Suburban.

“Every Saturday, we got the calendar out — where can we go?” Marie said. “I just knew he could do it. He just had to have someone give him the opportunity.”

Tyden came along for those camps and visits, too, which Marie and Rollie initially thought would be good experience for when he would go through the recruiting process a year later.

But he wasn’t just along for the ride. Tyden was getting noticed, too.

And when Raimann and the Ferris family sat down in Central Michigan head coach John Bonamego’s office, they were hoping all that time, all those miles on the Suburban, all the energy they all put in would earn Bernhard a scholarship offer.

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