Historically, Arkansas as a U.S. state has punched above its weight in terms of how many NBA and NFL players it produces per capita. For elite (American) football players, the nation of Denmark holds a similar status in Europe.
Home to only 5.75 million people, Denmark is on par with Germany (83 million) with the number of football players it produces. In 2016, for instance, “there were 10 Danes playing in the college ranks, tied with Germany for the most out of any European nation – without a doubt the most per capita by far,” wrote Christian W of The Copenhagen Post.
Now, football-loving Danes can brag about another fact: For the second time ever, one of their countrymen has been selected in an NFL Draft. And, for the first time, it’s a position player. On Saturday, the New England Patriots chose former Razorback guard Hjalte Froholdt with the 118th pick in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft.
This pick means there will be a few reunions at play. First, Froholdt will play for his former head coach Bret Bielema, now a Patriots assistant coach, and former Razorback Deatrich Wise, now a Patriot.
In fact, it was Bielema who made the big call to Hjalte Froholdt on Saturday. Make sure to watch their moment below, in which Froholdt answers the phone and Bielema shares the good news. “Hey brother, we’re about to take you in a couple picks,” Bielema said. You can tell how much this means to Hjalte and his family.
“My parents, my siblings and my uncle are here,” he said afterward. “They’ve been there through the whole process — ups and downs, a lot of downs. I couldn’t have done it without them. They’re my rock.”
Froholdt has already seen the New England Patriots up close and personal.
As a broadcaster for a Danish television network during Super Bowl LIII, Hjalte Froholdt helped convey the matchup between New England and Los Angeles back to his homeland. “Basically, we were down on the field for a little bit doing some broadcasting down there and then went up into the box and broadcast the whole game,” he said.
What does it mean to Hjalte to be the first Danish position player drafted into the NFL?
Froholdt told Pig Trail Nation’s Alyssa Orange that the breakthrough means a lot to him, but he’s also keeping it in perspective. This is American football by the way, not the fodbold that most sports-loving Danes are crazy about. “It’s not like I walk through [Denmark] streets and they’re like ‘Ah, that’s Hjalte! Football’s not that big yet, but we’ll see.”
Still, he’s been getting a lot of good vibes from his countrymen. “I’m getting all these texts from people I’ve never met in my life. They’re all like ‘Hey man, congratulations on what you’ve done and we’ll follow you wherever to see how you’ll do. Everyone’s super excited. I feel a lot of support from people back home in Denmark.”
Hjalte Froholdt, 22 years old, grew up in an era in which NFL football games were broadcast to Danes more often than to other Europeans. A Danish TV station, TV2 Zulu, began showing such games in the late 1990s.
“First Zulu showed weekly games, then two games a week, and at one point they were showing more games per capita than even the US and it led to a huge explosion of the sport in Denmark,” Jens Rørbye, head of communications for the Copenhagen Towers football team, told The Copenhagen Post.
“Rørbye said that over a ten-year period after Zulu started showing games, the number of US football clubs in Denmark rose from about 10 to 45. Today many teams have more than one adult team and several youth teams, including ones for under-12s.”
Froholdt began playing at age 12. He also benefited from playing in a strong grassroots football system growing up in Svendborg, a coastal town in south-central Denmark. He was also helped by a 21st century requirement, instituted by the Danish American Football Federation, that made adult U.S. football teams in that nation also develop youth teams for younger teens.
The federation helped by “increasing the quality of training and officials to supporting the development of new teams and youth – such as the demand that all elite teams must have at least an under-19 and under-16 team,” The Copenhagen Post reported.
Froholdt tore it up in the youth leagues, then during his 10th grade year starring as defensive lineman at Warren G. Harding High School in Ohio. “I wanted to get better at football and take it back to Denmark and maybe play a little bit better back in Denmark and learn something,” Froholdt said in a Patriots introductory press conference. “But, of course, there’s always been dreams, and we kind of just talked about how it seemed unrealistic about college and the NFL and whatnot.”
“It was never really the intention — I came over wanting to get a supersized meal and drive some big cars, and it turned out as something really different.”
Hjalte Froholdt as an Arkansas Razorback
After a stellar high school career, the 6-5, 306 pound interior lineman had high hopes for his college career under former Hogs coach Bret Bielema. “I was like, ‘I’m going to come out, I’m going to be an all-American.’ That was my goal. That’s what I wanted to be and of course I wasn’t,” he told Alyssa Orange.
Failing to break out as a star stung Froholdt’s ego. “I had a really hard time with not performing to the level of my own expectations my freshman year as a D-lineman.”
Froholdt was moved to offensive lineman for his sophomore season, a place where the Razorbacks could give him more playing time. There, too, he initially struggled — especially with pass blocking. “It was really, really tough for me,” he told Orange. “But in talking with coaches, with players and with my mom, she’s a certified stress and life coach. So she helped me a lot too, which is like, failure’s okay and dealing with all these things.”
In the end, Froholdt reached his stride at offensive line, and by his senior year was selected as a captain and second-team All-SEC performer. Froholdt even got a spot on SEC Network host Tim Tebow’s regular highlighting of the SEC football “Freak of the Week.”
“They had to go to Denmark to find their freak!,” Tebow shrieked into the cameras during his profile of Froholdt. “They brought him to Fayetteville and he is nasty! Let me tell you something — he’s an offensive lineman and he’s given up only one sack in the last two years,” yelled Tebow, his voice practically going hoarse with unhinged excitement.
Then, no longer able to contain himself, Tim Tebow shouted out Froholdt’s weight lifting bonafides below. All the while, his co-hosts cackled with maniacal glee.
For Froholdt’s part, he’s a bit more calm when assessing his progress as a player. He’s glad he moved to offensive line, even though it was harder.
“I feel like it brought my level of intelligence around football to a much higher, and I enjoyed it,” he told Orange.
Below are more excerpts from his interview with Pig Trail Nation:
On making the change from defensive line to offensive line:
“It was hard… run blocking wasn’t really a big deal. I just ran through people kind of like any defensive lineman, but pass blocking was certainly an issue. It is just trying to understand the playbook. There was a lot more tangibles to it, there’s a lot more what-ifs and a lot more rules.”
With defensive line play, “you either have A gap, B gap or what are you doing here? You can maybe go here, but you need to stay in your lane and react from what the offensive line is doing. Joining that offensive line, we kind of dictate where the [defenders] go.”
On having Danish family in Arkansas before the draft, and what he looks forward to the most in the NFL:
“They’re all excited. I’m happy they’re around it. It means a lot… I think the best part about it wherever it is, it’s gonna be a bigger airport. So it’s gonna be a lot easier to fly into than XNA,” the Northwest Arkansas airport.
On his Razorback career, which ended with two losing seasons:
“Even though we didn’t win as many games as I would have liked, I know that I would have done it again”
“Going through all these trials and tribulations and bumps in the road have helped shape me to being the person I am today. I don’t like losing — I don’t accept it even though we only won six games the past two years. It made me strive to be even better every day.”
Here’s a Pig Trail Nation interview with Hjalte Froholdt after he spoke with Bret Bielema and Bill Belichick, the Patriots’ head coach, during the NFL Draft:
Other Danish NFL PLayers
When it comes to getting the nickname “Great Dane,” there are two camps. There are the Danish players who get it because they’re so big, like Hjalte Froholdt. Then, there are the Danes who have proved they deserve it by performing on the highest levels.
That’s kicker Morten Anderson.
Until 2018, Andersen was the all-time leading scorer in NFL history. At the end of his career in 2007, Andersen held the following NFL records:
- Most games played (career) – 382[
- Most consecutive games played by a placekicker – 248
- Most field goals attempted (career) – 709
- Most seasons, 90 or more points (career) – 22
- Most game-winning field goals (career) – 103
He is, no surprise, a Pro Football Hall of Famer.
Andreas “Thor” Knappe
Coming out of Connecticut a few years ago, Andreas Knappe was an intriguing prospect at 6’8″ and 325 pounds. He’s bounced around the league for the last few years, but the offensive lineman hasn’t been able to play a regular season snap yet.
As 247Sports reports: “Knappe’s a little rough around the edges and has an advantage age (26) working against him, despite possessing requisite size to succeed on the edge. The University of Connecticut product redshirted his freshman season and played in just one game as a sophomore. He did, however, start his final 25 games for the Huskies at right tackle, catching the eye of scouts.”
“Knappe is a two-year starter who has the size and intelligence that will appeal to NFL offensive line coaches, but his lack of plus athleticism and below average knee bend will make handling NFL edge players extremely difficult,” his NFL.com scouting report reads. “While teams are generally willing to stash raw, but improving talents like Knappe, his age is likely to factor against him in that regard.”
Knappe’s lack of a regular season minutes opens the door for Froholdt to also become the first position player from Denmark to play regular season NFL minutes.
So, what position will Froholdt play for the Patriots and what kind of competition does he face?
Dive deeper here: