PARKERSBURG - For Eric Politz, it's almost impossible to draw any comparisons between tennis and Australian Football other than he enjoyed a successful career in high school at one and is devoting his current athletic career with the other.
Earlier this year as part of an exchange program, the 28-year-old Politz joined the senior division of Jeparit Rainbow and made the trip to Australia with Columbus (Ohio) Jackaroos teammate Clyde Simpson. Only five years have passed since he was first introduced to the sport.
"Footy was the first tackle sport I played, and I will admit my tackling still probably needs some work," Politz said. "In footy, you sometimes learn what not to do by getting hit really hard. New players need to play a significant amount of actual games before it can start slowing down for them.
Parkersburg High School graduate Eric Politz is playing Australian football for Jeparit Rainbow and will return to the United States in October to play for the Columbus Jackaroos at the national tournament in Columbus
"If you are new to the sport, chaos is probably what comes to mind when you watch a game. I actually played in a game before I ever watched the sport."
A self-proclaimed vegetarian until he arrived Down Under in March, Politz has bulked up 15 pounds since his playing days for Parkersburg High where he won the No. 2 doubles title during his sophomore and junior years. He also won the No. 3 singles title as a junior and earned all-state status by advancing to the semifinals of No. 1 singles during his senior year.
While pursuing his bachelor's degree in chemistry and master's degree in sports management at Ohio State University, Politz took a recreational interest in ice hockey. Despite the two degrees, neither career path interested him. So he became what he termed "a free spirit."
* While pursuing his bachelor's degree in chemistry and master's degree in sports management at Ohio State University, Eric Politz took a recreational interest in ice hockey.
* Despite the two degrees, neither career path interested him.
* So he became what he termed "a free spirit."
"When I was at Ohio State working on my master's degree, I was playing hockey and one of the guys I played with wore a Columbus Jackaroos shirt one day," Politz said. "I told him that footy sounded fun and he told me the club trained that evening. I went to the training, had a blast and never looked back.
"Usually, it is extremely difficult to recruit players, but we joke a bit that I recruited myself. This sport kept my interest because it is the best sport in the world, and you meet a great group of guys when you join a club that is full of a bunch of amateurs willing to play a contact sport."
With the lowest payroll in the Mallee Football League, Jeparit Rainbow is still seeking its first victory after 13 attempts. Three rounds remain in the schedule, but Politz has been sidelined for the remainder of the year with a calf injury.
Politz should be back close to 100 percent healthy when he returns to the United States and joins the Jackaroos in time for the Division II Nationals scheduled for October in Columbus.
"Everyone makes a big deal of the tackling, but it is the kicking and the endurance that are the two most important things to have in my opinion," Politz said. "Footy players get no pads (only a mouthguard). The biggest thing you have to realize is that, unlike rugby or gridiron, there are no offsides rules and contact can come from any direction at any time.
"As far the toll on the body, I will admit footy takes a fair bit from you, but every bit worth it. When I recruit players, I have a very specific rule so I don't waste my time. As soon as I hear, "but I don't want to get injured" as an excuse, I stop recruiting because that person will never even come out to a training session."
In the meantime, Politz will experience the Australian culture. He lives in the Victoria province of Jeparit - population 500. Melbourne is a five-hour drive away.
Besides the two nights of training with the team, Politz plays in the Rainbow and District Badminton League.He also works as much as he can. Usually, it consists of farm work. Taking down fences, putting up fences, marking lambs and rousing. He also spent the summer clearing burnt forest following some brush fires in the area.
"When I heard about the exchange program, there was no hesitation in coming over here once I realized I could do it," Politz said. "Playing in Australia is only a one-year thing because the work visa is only a one-year visa, and it is not easy to stay in the country after that unless you get married (no plans) or sponsored by an American company."
With two degrees in his hip pocket, Politz has heard his share of comments questioning his career path. But he says he has plenty of support from friends and family.
"I know a fair few people who think that I'm dumb and I should get a career," Politz said. "But I don't really care. I know my footy mates think it's pretty cool."