By Dave Ruden
NEW CANAAN — Alex Dobbin appears no different from his teammates on the New Canaan High School football team. He talks in sophisticated terms about stunts and techniques, counts down the days to Friday nights and Saturday afternoons, and is a major contributor for the Rams, who are 5-0 and in contention for league and state championships.
Not bad for someone who, 26 months ago, showed up for his initial practice after moving to town from Sweden without ever having seen a football game.
“I remember the first day, he came up and looked at all of us and said, ‘Americans, are you all cowboys?’ ” said defensive back Teddy Bossidy. It was hysterical. He has come so far since then.”
Indeed, it wasn’t that long ago that New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli was showing Dobbin how to put on his equipment.
“I didn’t know what a girdle was,” Dobbin said. “Coach Marinelli asked me if I was a lineman or a receiver and I couldn’t answer him. I didn’t know offense versus defense. I didn’t know any type of positions.”
Two years later, Dobbin, affectionately known as “The Swede,” is a starting tackle for one of the state’s best defenses, looking forward to a college career and thankful that he decided to dive into a new experience.
“He showed up and really was as green as you can be,” Marinelli recalled. “It was an adjustment period for him. Learning to put the pads on and figuring what was going on, but he worked really hard to get himself bigger, stronger and learning what to do.”
Dobbin’s father, Andrew, grew up in New Jersey, where he played football, married a Swedish woman he met in New York and moved to Stockholm, where Dobbin spent his first 16 years.
Dobbin was an accomplished skier and played soccer. When his father got a new job in New York and moved the family to New Canaan, Dobbin decided to try out for the football team.
“I went from a typical Swedish life and I wanted to have a typical American life, and I thought football was part of that experience,” Dobbin said.
The learning curve took some time, but the 6-foot-4, 205-pound Dobbin demonstrated enough athleticism that the coaches considered him a viable prospect.
“It’s hard for kids not from the United States to figure out this crazy game of football,” Marinelli said. “All the idiosyncrasies of it. Reading keys and understanding the concept of the game. It took him a while. He came up through the ranks, playing JV. It was hard for him. But to his credit he hung in there, hung in there, hung in there.”
Dobbin said there were times he felt overwhelmed, but never to the point of giving up.
“It was hard,” he said. “It was very challenging. There was a lot of frustration in the beginning because I just didn’t understand it. But I never gave up. I knew I wanted to play football for the rest of my stay in New Canaan. It was never a feeling that I’d try it and maybe I’d like it or not. I had a feeling that I’d enjoy it.”
Dobbin’s personality, potential and drive quickly made him a favorite of the New Canaan players, despite their initial skepticism whether he’d ever contribute.
“He was clueless out there at first,” Bossidy said. “His junior year it was like, OK, we have a little something there, and now he’s awesome. His work ethic is incredible. He spends an incredible amount of time in the weight room and he’s got an incredible motor on him.”
Dobbin said having teammates and coaches who accepted him provided a comfort level, and playing on a unit now that includes stars like Connor Buck, Michael Root, Cole Harris and Zach Allen has expedited his development.
Dobbin’s 22 tackles rank fourth on the team. He also has 1.5 sacks.
“Learning the rules the first month was the most frustrating because I didn’t know what was happening,” Dobbin said. “But it was a lot of fun, and that’s why I didn’t quit. If I ended up playing in a different town, maybe. And the success of all the great players around me has made me more successful.”
Marinelli said it has been fun watching Dobbin’s enthusiasm morph into a meteoric rise.
“Some of our coaches were skeptical,” Marinelli said. “They said he’d never play for us, and he’s been a huge part of what we’ve done.”
An A-minus student, Dobbin is looking at a number of Division III schools in the northeast.
Dobbin’s search for having a typical American life, in terms of fall Friday nights and Saturday afternoons, will likely last four more years.
“Looking back on it now, I don’t think anyone would believe that I moved here two years ago and wasn’t a part of this New Canaan football family,” Dobbin said. “I feel like I’m really part of the core group, and I love it.”