Matthias Staalsoe Credit: Courtesy of University of Maine Athletics

Soccer is the national sport in Denmark. Nearly 300,000 people play what they call football in the country of 5.7 million people.

Matthias Staalsoe grew up in Copenhagen, Denmark, preferring another type of football: American football. Now, he’s an offensive lineman at the University of Maine.

“I would watch NFL games at 3 in the morning,” said Staalsoe, who is competing for a starting job at guard. “Then I started to get into playing Madden [NFL], and that’s how I learned the rules,” Staalsoe said of the video game.

The 6-foot-3, 282-pound Staalsoe also realized he was much bigger than the average person in Denmark.

“So I thought [American] football would be a perfect fit for me. I like the physicality of it,” said Staalsoe, who played with the first unit during UMaine’s first intrasquad scrimmage Wednesday on Morse Field at Alfond Stadium in Orono.

Staalsoe said there are a number of “pay to play” club football teams in Denmark. There also is the Danish American Football Foundation, which gives the best players an opportunity to play at the international level.

“The national team schedule has pretty high competition although it is not as good as senior high school football in the States. But it is getting better, and it is growing. They’re developing a lot of talent in Europe right now,” Staalsoe said.

He played for his club and national teams, and was noticed by a German man who helped him come over the United States. Staalsoe spent his senior year of high school at The Taft School in Watertown, Connecticut.

He was a two-way standout on the line.

“As soon as I realized I was going to the U.S. for my senior year of high school, I realized I could go out and do this. I could get into college and play Division I football,” Staalsoe said.

He received All-USA Today, All-Connecticut and All-NEPSAC (New England Preparatory School Athletic Council) honors.

Staalsoe said he chose UMaine because he liked the peacefulness.

“It’s quiet up here so you can focus all your energy on your sport, football in my case. There aren’t a lot of distractions up here, and that helps you develop as a football player,” Staalsoe said.

He suffered a concussion a year ago as a true freshman but did appear in one game, UMaine’s 28-9 victory over Richmond on Nov. 10.

UMaine offensive line coach Pat Denecke praised Staalsoe’s preparation as a player.

“They come to college physically developed. They have good coaching over there,” Denecke said.

“Matthias came in with a decent knowledge base. He wasn’t starting from square one.”

Staalsoe earned the Maine Man strength and conditioning award last winter and had a productive spring.

“He’s a good story,” UMaine head coach Nick Charlton said. “He’s a tough kid and one of the strongest kids on the team. The ceiling is very high for him.”

UMaine junior center Chris Mulvey sees great potential in Staalsoe.

It’s real easy doing [blocking] combos with him. He can move people down the field,” Mulvey said.

“I think he’s going to have a real breakout year this year,” Mulvey said.

Mulvey added that Staalsoe has done a nice job learning the blocking schemes and understanding the intricacies of being an offensive lineman.

Staalsoe said he has really focused on the mental aspect of his game, developing a better understanding of the playbook, who he’s working with in the offensive line on a particular play and understanding the calls made by the center.

“I’ve made big strides from last year. I’ve definitely gotten better. But we can all continue to get better,” he said.

He said the coaches and Mulvey have played important roles in helping him understand the schemes. His goal is to earn consistent playing time.

UMaine junior quarterback Chris Ferguson said Staalsoe has impressed him as a young player.

“Coming in to play in the offensive line as a freshman is tough. He’s a strong kid and he’s smart. He’s ready to go. I’m excited about him,” Ferguson said.