When you follow your passion, you often see places you never thought you would. For former Mount Greylock boys' soccer player Tom Dils, it has taken him all the way to Germany.
The 2011 All-Transcript MVP skipped the eighth grade, so he graduated at only 17. He and his family figured heading off to college that young wasn't the best idea. So for the past few years, they've discussed what he should use his gap year for. As his soccer career progressed, it became more and more evident the sport needed to be a piece of the puzzle.
So when the opportunity came to live with a long-time family friend came along and play on a German club soccer team, he seized it.
In a culture where there's a new experience to be had at every turn, it's the familiar that he is enjoying the most in his first few weeks abroad.
"I have to say the soccer. It's been so much fun," he said via video chat Monday. "It's very different than playing at Greylock, but it's still soccer. It's something I really love, so that's been great."
Dils will be living, working and playing in Germany for four months. He arrived in mid-August and will stay until mid-December. His soccer schedule consists of four practices, split between two teams, and a game on either Friday or Saturday. He practices twice a week with his DJK Bad Homburg Junior A team, which consists of kids 18 and under. He also practices two times a week with the men's team, which is mainly 19
While the style of play has been the biggest adjustment for him on the field, it's the language barrier away from it. After taking four years of Latin in high school, there isn't much he's been able to draw from to help.
"German's not an easy language. I know a little bit. I can pick out words, but I can't speak it yet. So that's been difficult," he said. "I've been kind of throwing myself into situations where I need to use it. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn't, but it keeps me on my toes, definitely."
The language does catch up to him on the field, too. He said he can make do with yelling and pointing during the game, but he's in the dark when it comes time for teaching.
"When the coach is talking for two, three minutes, I don't really know what he's saying," he said.
The one place his small German vocabulary doesn't hurt him is at home with his host family, who are actually long-time family friends with strong ties to Williamstown.
His "mom" in Germany has been friends with his mom since they grew up together in Williamstown and went to Mount Greylock. Nina Grinnell Judson is the daughter of Williamstown lawyer Bruce Grinnell.
"It's turned out to be a really exciting and pretty much perfect situation for him. He really wanted to be independent. He wanted to have some adventure, but he wanted to have that soccer piece to be there," his mom, Jessica Dils, said, who spent a semester abroad in Kenya while she was in college. "For us, we wanted him to be in a place that was safe, and we just really matched up beautifully with a home with friends that I knew all growing up. That was just pretty serendipitous and worked out beautifully. They've been wonderful and gracious, and that's been a nice fit. So that sort of helps ease the worry of where is he and who he's living with and how he's eating."
While Tom is finally starting to get some breathing room from the four kids he's living with, -- all 9 years old and younger -- his family at home has noticed his absence.
His 10th-grade sister, Miranda, misses her brother being able to help with a tough question on her homework. His mom is still making food for five, but only serving four.
For his dad, Blair, who has been coaching him since he was about five, he's found the car rides after practices and games vastly different. The two used to serve as sounding boards for each other. They would discuss where the team stands, what needs improvement and what is working well on the drive home.
"I have great captains this year," Blair said, "but I really wish I could give them rides home after the games or after the practices ... I definitely miss those conversations."
Tom's seventh-grade brother, Sammy, simply misses seeing his brother when he walks through the door.
"It's kind of a different pace. It's kind of weird coming home and not seeing him," he said. "I kind of forget sometimes, but it's not too bad. It's different."
Even being thousands of miles and six time zones away, thinking about soccer in his down time, volunteering at a school and traveling, Tom knows he's missing events back home.
"Well," he said, "it would be great to be there and seeing my Sammy going out for JV as a seventh grader."
As for his own soccer, it didn't take him more than a few practices with the team to notice the drastically different style of play.
"Greylock prides itself on being a really good passing team and trying to move the ball, trying to play the right style of soccer," he said. "But I come here, and I make one turnover in the midfield, and they're yelling at me just because I tried to force a pass that I had an easier option. I could have passed back or played simple and just kept possession. So those types of things.
"They're really focused on possession, on slowing the game down when you're in the back, trying to look for the right opportunity to go forward, not turning the ball over when you're dribbling or targeting someone forward."
Dils is on the Junior A team for DJK Bad Homburg, the top team for his age within the club. In the season opener Friday night, he played center back for the complete game, a 2-0 win. He said in an email following the game that unlike a lot of soccer back home, the numerous one-on-one battles lead to a lot of balls being played to the top of the 18-yard box on the ground. He is used to defending against an aerial attack, which he also had to do Friday, but not as much as the combination plays.
"The play will be unimpressive for a stretch and then someone will do something absolutely brilliant as an individual," he said in the email. "Those plays don't get as much recognition here as they would in the States. Still, I'm going to play the way I play -- winning 50/50 balls, distributing long, trying not to turn the ball over. It'll be a fun season, and I hope my team can mesh well because we have a lot of talent."