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Interview #44- Jochen Graf
Jochen Graf is a retired professional soccer player from Texas. Graf attended both Southern Methodist University and Bradley University, playing college soccer at the two schools. From there, Graf went over to Europe and played with German side Hertha Walheim. After playing for many more clubs throughout both Germany and Sweden before returning to the States after five years overseas, signing with the Rochester Rhinos. Graf has since played for the Tampa Bay Rowdies, the New York Cosmos, and Memphis 901 FC before hanging up his cleats and retiring following the 2019 season. A true professional with many great stories, Jochen Graf is a top player and a great person!
1. Growing up in Texas, what was your youth career like?
I had a fantastic upbringing in soccer. Dallas is a hotbed for youth soccer and I was lucky to be a part of two very successful clubs. Winning back to back national championships at u17 and u18 was the highlight.
2. How were you initially recruited by Southern Methodist University?
In Dallas, every player who was aiming for college soccer wanted to play at SMU. A powerhouse at that time it was the dream and after leading my team in goals in those national championship runs, I committed early my junior year and was really happy to do so.
3. In your first collegiate season, you redshirted. What did you learn in your redshirt freshman year?
That was my first experience with an injury. I tore my meniscus during preseason and although it hurt me a lot to deal with. I grew and it prepared me for what was going to come in the future. Injuries are a part of the game.
4. After one year at SMU, you transferred to Bradley University. What was your reasoning behind your transfer?
Bradley recruited me heavily in high school. It was one of my top choices. Along with my injury, there was a coaching change at SMU where Schellas Hyndman left. The best move for me at the time was to join Bradley and I’m really glad I did.
5. At Bradley you became a star, making 77 appearance and scoring 15 goals for the Braves. How was your experience at Bradley?
Bradley was a great experience for me. I played out wide my first two seasons there and became a starter the moment I transferred in. Jim DeRose and the rest of the school made me feel at home and I learned a lot about soccer, school, and life on my own.
6. After college, you moved over to Europe where you signed with German side Hertha Walheim. How was the transition from America to Germany?
Looking back now, it was such a crazy move to go to Europe right after school. But again there were a lot of lessons in it for me and I was exposed to another country and way of playing. I loved being in Germany and always recommend a move to Europe at some point as a young player.
7. What was your tenure with Hertha Walheim like?
Walheim allowed me the chance to see what German football at the grassroots level was like. I scored twice on my debut and enjoyed it a lot.
8. After Walheim, you moved countries again, this time to Sweden where you signed with Lisköping. How did this opportunity come about?
Sweden came up as an opportunity thru an agency called Bridges. They helped me over. I went in at halftime in a friendly against lidkoping they wanted to sign me straight after. Gytis Galgota was the manager, he gave my first chance and believed in me. Trained me individually every day and gave me a big role in the team. Although I only played for him for 3 months, it’s some of the fondest memories I have from any manager.
9. Following your time with Lisköping you enjoyed two successful stints at Swedish clubs Carlstad United and Oskarshamns AIK. What these years in Sweden teach you both as a player and as a person?
Sweden taught me so much about football and even more about myself. It truly prepared me and helped me grow. I’ll never forget that time or the people there.
10. What was the biggest lesson you learnt in your time over in Europe?
Biggest lesson was dealing with adversity. It was so different then anything I’d gone through before, and now I look back and am grateful I got the chance to be there.
11. After around five years overseas, you returned to America and signed with the Rochester Rhinos who were then a member of the USL Pro Division. How were you feeling after signing with the Rhinos?
The rhinos turned Out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I was so excited to play back in the states, I wasn’t sure I'd ever do that again.
12. You were very successful in Rochester. Bagging in eleven goals in thirty games. Looking back, how was your time with Rhinos?
Rochester was one of my favorite times in my career. We won a lot of games and I was really enjoying my football. Playing with some really talented players and the growth I experienced was terrific. Cherish those times always.
13. What did it mean for you to sign a professional contract in America after years overseas?
It was a great feeling to sign and move back. My family and friends now got the chance to watch me play more often, it was awesome for everyone to become a bigger part of my career.
14. Once your time in Rochester came to an end, you moved clubs once again, this time to the Tampa Bay Rowdies. What were you thinking after signing with the Rowdies?
The rowdies are the type of club you have a hard time passing on. Incredible history and place. I was thrilled to sign and things started really well. Even though it didn’t finish the way I’d hoped, I still loved playing there and St. Pete is now my home.
15. You mentioned how much you love the Rowdies. What was your favorite experience from your time with them?
My favorite times were on the road. We had some really great away trips as a team that I enjoyed a lot. I also loved the Suncoast Invitational. We played two good teams in Philly and Montreal and it was a good feeling to score in both those games at Al Lang.
16/17 You’ve also played for Reno 1868 and the New York Cosmos. What was it like playing for these two clubs?...
In 2019, you played with Memphis 901 FC in their inaugural season. What was it like to be a part of such a historic season in club history?
The Cosmos are historic. Joe Barone and Carlos, as well as Rocco make that club special and I enjoyed the group there a lot. They had a lot of belief in me and it’s a shame I didn’t have a longer stint there, but moving to Memphis was a choice I felt I had to make. And it was a great experience. The city and the fans were unreal. I learned An expansion club can be really tricky. But they’ve done a great job so far and I hope the team on the field will live up to the support and the expectations of the fans there. One of my favorite stops. (I realize I’m saying how alot of these clubs were my favorite times, I’m lucky to have been a part of so many incredible ones).
18. Overall, how was your time with Memphis?
Memphis was terrific. I played with my close friends again in Todd Pratzner. And made some amazing new ones in the team like Lagos Kunga, Pierre da Silva, Marcus Epps, Jacob Hauser Ramsey, Abdi Mohammad and more. There were some great guys there. I couldn’t even name all of them here or I’d be writing most of the roster. Off the field as well we had a great time and I made some true friends there too. Oh and the food. Top drawer BBQ.
19. After the season with Memphis 901 FC, you retired. Describe the process of making that decision and how you were feeling when you ultimately did.
I think you just know when it’s time. 8 years and so many stops on the way had begun to weigh on me. I knew I had other priorities in my life and wanted to pursue them. The game gave me so much and it was the right time and chance for me to step away. I miss it everyday, but I’m so lucky to have done what I did. I work as an agent now representing players with my mentor and friend PJ Savage. I’m also working in sales for a company called Edgerock, which has been an awesome new experience that I’m enjoying a lot.
20. What’s your biggest advice for youngsters working to become pro?
Biggest advice is tough. So many lessons and experiences I’ve had that I try to share with young players. Believe in yourself. People will always tell you that you can’t make it, block them out, what do they know? And if you truly want it, put in the time. There’s a million players around the world who you’re competing with, every chance you have to improve yourself or train, take it. And lastly I’d say never stop learning, the moment you feel like you know it all, is when you’ll stop getting better and everyone else will pass you by!
21. Any last words for the readers?
I’ve really loved this interview and Chris is a super talented journalist. Can’t wait to see where life takes him. I want to thank everyone that’s supported me in my career and life. My family and my friends. You can make it on your own, but you’ll never enjoy it as much as when you’ve got your loved ones along for the ride. So thanks for that.
Message from the author, Chris Dailey: I just want to give a huge thank you to Jochen for the amazing interview. A top lad that has a lot in store for him in the future! Best of luck with what's next! Stay safe! Thanks again, Chris!
Photos via https://www.nycosmos.com and https://www.lasvegaslightsfc.com
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