It’s Civil War week, a game that resonates with Oregonians, and now, a family in Karlstad, Sweden.
Hakån Sandberg will huddle around a laptop around 10 p.m. Saturday night to watch his son Simon, a sophomore defensive tackle at Oregon State, play this game they call American football. Hakån catches a break this week with an early afternoon kickoff in Autzen Stadium. He got up at 3 a.m. last Saturday to watch the Beavers play Washington State in Pullman.
“He never watched football until I started to play,” Sandberg said.
Sandberg grew up in Karlstad – a city of about 60,000 in southeast Sweden — playing soccer, team handball and floor ball, a sport like hockey played on a floor.
“In soccer, I was a left defender. According to my dad, I was good,” Sandberg said.
Football, er American football, wasn’t on Sandberg’s radar until his early teens while watching his uncle play on a European club team.
Growing to be a little big to play soccer, football became an intriguing option for Sandberg. His football journey to Oregon State included a Swedish club, followed by stops in Nebraska and San Francisco.
Finding Oregon State is beginning to pay off for both parties. Sandberg, signed by the Beavers last winter following a two-year stint at City College of San Francisco, has found an increasing role on the Beavers’ defensive front this fall. The 6-foot-3, 271-pound Sandberg has played in the last eight games, starting three of the past four. He has eight tackles, two for loss, playing as an interior lineman.
“It’s a great story. It’s been awesome to see him grow and develop,” OSU defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar said.
Sandberg says football in Sweden is growing, but it’s all club. There wasn’t much thought of taking football somewhere until Sandberg did a year’s foreign exchange at a high school in Nebraska, where he played on a nine-man team.
From there, Sandberg knew he wanted to play. But how good was he? Would anyone know? He was curious. Sandberg reached out to a couple friends who had contacts with CC of San Francisco.
“It’s so hard in Sweden to get exposure,” Sandberg said. “I had to start somewhere.”
Sandberg enrolled at CCSF in 2017, saying “I wanted to test myself, see what level of player I am.” Ultimately, Sandberg wanted to see if he was good enough to get an offer from a four-year school, regardless of level.
Moving from Sweden to the states was an adjustment. Sandberg said picking up on American slang was interesting.
“Guys were saying ‘Right on’ and I’d say, ‘right on what?’” Sandberg said.
Another thing Sandberg liked about moving to the United States? Mexican food. They didn’t have that in Sweden, and Sandberg found big guys like Mexican cuisine.
But occasionally, Sandberg says he and few friends from the home country missed Swedish food.
“When we got homesick, we’d go to Ikea,” Sandberg said of the home store that also sells and serves popular Swedish food items.
Sandberg played one year at CCSF, getting 20 tackles, eight for loss. It was a good start, and briefly Sandberg thought, perhaps the end. A month before his sophomore season, Sandberg tore an ACL, ending his 2018 season.
Asked if he thought his football career was over, as he was here to get exposure, Sandberg said “It was a thought, I’ll admit. I was just hoping to get back.”
But Sandberg did enough as a freshman to catch some intention. Tibesar saw the raw potential and made inquiries. Sandberg said a couple MAC and FCS schools were interested.
Sandberg enrolled at OSU last January, but couldn’t participate in spring practice because of knee rehab. Even during preseason camp in August, Sandberg was slow to immerse himself in the rotation because of minor injuries. He didn’t play in the Beavers’ first three games.
“He came in, kept his head down and worked,” senior defensive tackle Elu Aydon said.
Recently, Sandberg is on the field as much as any Oregon State defensive lineman.
“I would say I’m surprised at what I’ve done,” Sandberg said. “It’s a slow process. I’m building trust with coaches and teammates. When we play on the same level, that’s when things happen.”
Sandberg isn’t sure where his American football journey ends. He’s majoring in kinesiology, and it could lead to a career in strength and conditioning. Or perhaps there’s a little pro football in his future.
“Wherever it goes, it goes,” Sandberg said. “If it doesn’t go my way, it’s been an adventure.”