Out of the tunnel and onto the football field runs 18-year-old Nouredin Nouili, a 6-foot-4 behemoth, a long way from his home in Frankfurt, Germany. He ran in awe of the 70,000 roaring Colorado State and Colorado fans as he and his herd of Ram teammates took the field.
At the foot of the Rocky Mountains sits Mile High Stadium in Denver. The day is August 30, 2019. The in-state rivals of Colorado and Colorado State are set to clash on the football field. A year ago to that day, Nouredin did not even know Colorado State University existed. But there was no time for him to think. He was running into his first start of his college career.
“At the time I didn’t have this tunnel vision thing, where like you just see the field and you just see the players, and to be quite honest with you, I was standing in the huddle, and I could not hear the play, everything was too loud and crazy. I had no idea, and I just went into a pass set, and luckily it was a pass play,” he said.
If he would have done something wrong, he said he would have never played again.
“But after that first play everything was fine,” he said. “I had tunnel vision. I couldn’t even hear the fans anymore.”
For Nouredin, it was a new opportunity to rise to the occasion, which is something in his DNA.
Nouili, now 20, had a unique journey in the game of football, and a different perspective as an international student athlete competing in an American sport. In a span of a few years, Nouredin faced many new beginnings and challenges. Nevertheless, he is comfortable with the uncomfortable.
Nouredin speaks four languages: German, English, Arabic and French, is majoring in criminology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and plays football along with 20,000 Division I athletes. In 2019, when Nouredin entered his first year of playing college football, he was one of 12 German-born players.
In Germany, the sport of American football does not compare to football in America.
“We do not have good coaches,” he said. “Our coaches are like Madden (NFL video game) fans.”
Soccer is the sport that Nouredin grew up accustomed with in Germany — their football is “futball.”
“I played soccer for 13 years of my life as a goalkeeper,” Nouredin said.
Playing soccer and especially playing goalie would eventually help him play football and offensive line.
“It makes you more explosive out of your stance, and be able to move a lot quicker than you know most bigger kids are supposed to. As a goalkeeper, you need to be able to be explosive out of your stance and jump in both directions,” he said.
As a teenager, Nouredin started by overcoming Osgood Schlatter in his knees, a condition where one will experience pain and swelling beneath the knee joint, and the patellar attaches to the shinbone (tibia). He took a year off from sports in order to rehab.
“Back in the day I could barely walk some days, and now it is just not a problem anymore,” he said. When he came back from injury, he did not enjoy soccer as much. He did a bunch of different sports, from tennis to handball, and eventually found football. Nouredin started playing football when he was 16 in Germany. One year later, in 2018, he found himself moving to America. As a foreign exchange student, he landed at Norris High School in Firth, Nebraska. Nouredin walked into as a 6-foot-3 inch, 275 pound, 17 year old who never lifted weights.
“I never worked out before because in Germany it is too expensive to go workout at a gym, the first two weeks were terrible,” he said.
He was naturally built for football, learning to play the game 4,700 miles from home.
The offensive line coach at Norris High School, David Weber, said at first it was not an easy transition for Nouredin.
“In his first game, he is at right tackle and we are going to throw the ball. Two guys blitz on his side, his head goes right, his head goes left and he just stands there. I pulled him and I said, ‘Nouri you gotta block one of them.’ Nouredin said, ‘I was sitting there deciding if I could block two of them.’ I said, ‘You don’t have time, you gotta pick one of them,’” Weber said. As the season went on, Nouredin adapt more to the speed of American high school football.
“When it came to football he was great, but it took a little time to get there.” Weber said.
He recalled a time when Nouredin played punter for the Norris Titans.
“We also had Nouri punting on occasion, because he is a remarkable athlete,” Weber said. “The head coach decides we are going fake the punt and have Nouri run it. He just runs and he takes off around the right side and drags guys down the field for a 25-yard gain. I wouldn’t wanna try and tackle him either.”
Nouredin’s life beyond football games includes experiences that people his age don’t often enjoy.
“He has been to parts of the world and has seen all kinds of people and cultures that have helped define who he is,” Weber said. “He is one of those people that you can look at and say, that is a great way to look at life: Every day be happy and everyone is your buddy. Very rarely was he down on himself.”
Another thing that helped Nouredin was that he was not the only German on the Norris team.
“There were two other German international students on the team and whenever they were homesick they had each other, that was really helpful for them,” Weber said.
Nouredin would thrive in his first year of playing American high school football. In his lone season at Norris, he recorded 32 tackles and seven tackles for loss, while also playing offensive line. He caught the eyes of some Division I football programs. Colorado State came calling, and after a visit to Fort Collins, he decided on Colorado State in 2019.
“It doesn’t surprise me that Nouri has had so much success, not just because he is physically talented but because of his mental ability to do it, too.” Weber said.
As Nouredin entered his third year of playing football, it would be at the FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) level. He felt the impact of the Colorado elevation immediately and knew he had a lot to learn once he got there. Thankfully, his coach saw his potential and helped him learn a lot about being an offensive lineman.
“Workouts felt like I was going to throw up at any time, but over time I got better with that,” he said. “Dave Johnson, who was my offensive line coach there, wanted me to play left tackle at first, because he said it is easier to learn the offense from the outside in, as like left tackle to guard. Because he saw me as a guard, he wanted me at tackle first. So for the first few weeks, I was left tackle, but then they moved me to guard.”
Nouredin said he likes being a flexible player on the offensive line.
“Being versatile helps a lot, because if you are good at multiple positions, the opportunity will present itself,” he said. This versatility helped Nouredin, because when the starting left guard messed up in practice, he got his chance.
“I took the opportunity to excel basically, and a week and a half later we played Colorado, I was the starting left guard, and that experience was insane,” he said. Nouredin was able to play as a freshman in part because of his newness to the game of football. It is uncommon for offensive lineman to start as freshmen.
“I was kind of like a blank page. Kids who have been playing football for years have habits. I came not knowing anything about playing football, my coach could write the first word on the first page of the first book, and that way I could learn a lot quicker, there was nothing to fix really.”
Talent combined with his quick learning are why Nouredin started seven games at guard in 2019 for Colorado State. The first game against Colorado helped Nouredin learn a lot, too. Nouredin would go on to start six more games for the Rams. He got injured and missed the next four games, but he played in the last game of 2019 against Boise State.
After their final game that season, the coaches had a team meeting and the head coach announced that he was getting released.
”I put my name in the transfer portal, hoping Nebraska would call,” Nouredin said. “I wanted the opportunity to come home, while also keeping my options open.”
The door opened for him to come to Lincoln, and he walked on in 2020. Nouredin is entering his fifth year of playing football and his second as a Nebraska Cornhusker where he is happy to be back in Nebraska, which is the state where his American journey began.
“Being international gives a new perspective on how to see football as a sport and how different it is compared to Americans who play it when they are five and six years old to now, and it shows you personally that you learn a lot by being coached a lot better,” he said. “I got to work on my ability and my talent to be able to play here.”
“Nebraska is kind of like an odd place in the Midwest,” he said. “There is no professional team, Nebraska needs something, and we got Nebraska football. Also, Nebraska fans are crazy, they are insane.”
The latest challenge that Nouredin faced came this past summer while all of his teammates were able to take advantage monetarily of their NIL (name, image, likeness), he was unable to do so due to his student visa.
“As an international student, it sucks that I am not able to do anything about it, because it is not really the NCAA,” he said. “It is a federal thing.”
Nouredin is adamant that he wants to be one of the main individuals starting the movement to give international student athletes equal NIL rights.
“It will probably take the same amount of time, and that is OK. I just want to start the conversation,” he said. “I am a walk-on at Nebraska. Some people in America do not even know Nebraska exists. There are people in the NFL who are international athletes, maybe they could create more engagement and reaction to this issue, so hopefully that will become a thing during this season and this year. Hopefully this starts a conversation.”
Nouredin said he could earn an income from his NIL in Germany, but this was not something he had even considered pursuing.
“There is hardly any time to do that,” he said. “Right before fall camp, I went back to Germany for 10 days, that was the first time in over three years that I saw my family. I’m not gonna run around and try and find deals, I am gonna spend time with my family that I haven’t seen in so long,” he said.