By Connor Smith
Jörg Jauk has been kicking his entire life.
As a toddler raised in Graz, Austria, he kicked anything he could get his feet near. At age 6, Jauk’s father helped him translate this instinctual obsession into a lifelong passion when he brought the boy to a tryout for SK Sturm Graz’s youth academy team.
Jauk, now a sophomore finance major and midfielder on the men’s soccer team, told The Signal he was on the verge of a professional soccer career when he left SK Sturm Graz II, a semi-professional team, to play Division III soccer in the U.S.
“I always wanted to combine being a sportsman and getting education at the best possible level, for me,” he said. “A lot of my teammates don’t see it that way. They just see soccer. They want to become professionals, and they don’t really care what comes after that. I always knew that life is more than playing 10 years of soccer professionally. I wanted to get a good job. Maybe one day, I’d like to have my own business.”
Jauk valued his studies at a young age, which included reading American newspapers to improve his fluency in English and economics. He also practiced soccer every day for 15 years, aside from two annual three-week breaks. Despite the rigorous schedule, he always found time for his academic interests. According to Jauk, he performed well enough in the classroom to attend a top European university.
“If you go to a top school in Europe, they don’t let you practice that often,” Jauk said. “The other way is true if you’re about to become a professional. For a lot of my friends who are still trying to become professionals, or are professionals, it’s just so time-consuming that you don’t really have time (for studies).”
Forced to choose between his lifelong passion and his dream of owning a business, Jauk decided to leave his home country behind and find a school in the U.S., where combining athletics and academics are culturally ingrained.
“I was sure that I’m technically and tactically on a very good level,” he said. “I just somehow didn’t feel accomplished with just playing soccer.”
Jauk created a profile with a recruiting agency known as the National Collegiate Scouting Association. Months passed, until five to 10 schools met his requirements — which included east coast schools with top-flight business programs.
Among them was the College, led by head coach George Nazario, who said he’s traveled internationally and was intrigued with Jauk’s pedigree.
“I saw the name of the team, Sturm Graz, and I knew they’re a pretty good team over in Austria,” Nazario said. “After watching the video, I thought that soccer-wise, the level of play was pretty good.”
The coaching staff convinced Jauk to commit to the College, and he left his lifelong home behind for a compact dorm room in Travers Hall.
Both socially and athletically, Jauk needed time to adjust to the drastic changes in his life.
“The first day was a rough one,” he said. “I arrived in preseason and no one was there. The towers were basically empty. It didn’t start off as I expected it to, but that was my fault with timing. The first couple days, the coach showed me the school.”
As for in-season, Jauk was surprised by the physicality of American soccer.
“It’s a lot less physical (in Austria),” Nazario said. “There, it’s based more on technique and movement.”
Still, Jauk’s intelligence and tactical knowledge stood out to the head coach.
“When you’re dealing with an individual who is mentally tuned-in upstairs and understands the game at a high level, it makes life a lot easier,” he said. “It’s almost as good as having another coach on the field cause he’s able to communicate certain things that the guys don’t want to hear from me, so maybe it makes more sense from their compatriot.”
As time passed, Jauk grew more and more comfortable with life at the College. He made friends, like Nick Provenzano, a sophomore defender and health and exercise science major.
“From the beginning, I was very close to Nick,” Jauk said. “I roomed with him. His family was very nice to me. They helped me out, like going food shopping, and I stayed over for Thanksgiving break. I’m pretty close to most of the guys. I talk to them a lot.”
Although Jauk studied under dozens of top European coaches, he credited Nazario’s guidance as a major factor in his growth.
“What I like about (Nazario) is he’s very straightforward,” Jauk said. “He doesn’t mind telling you if you did something right or if you did something wrong. He’s very direct, but in a way that I think makes you rethink things and makes you learn.
“I like playing under him. He’s a good guy. He teaches you things about life, too. As it is in sports, things on the field, you can directly translate to everyday life. He always has a couple life lessons in his speeches. I like listening to him,” he said.
Now, settled into a cozy double in New Residence Hall, Jauk is prepared to step up and be a leader.
“Overall, I’d say I’m happy, as it is now,” he said. “I don’t want to keep it as it is. I want to develop. I want to get in a better leadership position in the team, keep my grades and try to get any internships in America.”
The Lions are 2-2 in conference play, which means there are still five opportunities to stake their claim toward a New Jersey Athletic Conference tournament berth.
Academically, Jauk overcame the initial struggles of writing papers in a foreign language.
Looking toward the future, he must eventually pick between his cleats and his other ambitions.
“I guess there’s gonna be a point after graduating and accepting a job where you have to set priorities,” he said. “I don’t know yet. If I don’t want to stay in the U.S. for a job, I could still work something less time consuming and play in the third- or second-highest (Austrian) league for money.”
Still, he knows for a fact there will always be a little time to keep on kicking.
“I’ll probably focus on my job and career and play soccer for fun on the weekend with friends,” he said. “I’ll always play. I’ve kicked things since I was able to walk… It’s something I share with my dad, so it’s always gonna be a huge part of my life.”