Posted On: October 6, 2018
By: Kayla Boykins
If there is anyone who believes in the phrase high risk, high reward, it's likely to be University of North Carolina men's soccer player Nils Bruening
. The senior forward and All–ACC Academic honoree left his native Hamburg, Germany almost four years ago to come play for the Tar Heels at a school and for a program that he knew absolutely nothing about at the time.
"I actually didn't know anything about UNC and it was a big risk to come here. I didn't imagine for years that I would come to UNC and be a Tar Heel like many of the students here do. I didn't know anything about U.S. universities, but I'm so happy I took the risk and that it has worked out the way it has," said Bruening.
But Bruening's big move did not come without adversity. An additional obstacle to overcome came in the form of a torn anterior cruciate ligament his junior year that kept him off the field for the entire season. After such a dynamic sophomore year in 2016, Bruening knew he had to come back stronger than ever for his final season in 2018.
"My goal was to be as fit as possible so that I would be ready for this upcoming season. I knew that I wanted to be at my highest level for when the season started," said Bruening.
A player of his word, this season Bruening has already scored three goals and added three assists and racked up nine overall points for himself and most importantly his team. His main goal was to come back stronger and better than ever and he absolutely has.
Another concern for Bruening? Comparing soccer at UNC to the professional environment he was surrounded by back in Germany. It came as quite a shock to Bruening when he was able to experience that same level of professionalism while at UNC.
Growing up in Germany a person eats, sleeps and breathes soccer, said Bruening. He described the sport as similar to a religion where he is from and that he knew nothing else except soccer while growing up. It only made sense for his dream to be that he play at an elite level when he was older.
"It was just surprising to see at what level they play soccer here. I played in a professional environment back in Germany and did not expect it to be nearly as professional as it is. It's incredible," said Bruening.
But the risks didn't just stop on the field. They continued into the classroom as well. From the moment Bruening arrived he knew he wanted to pursue a business degree. He just didn't know how extensive the process would be to get there.
His dedication and commitment to his schoolwork ultimately allowed him to major in business administration and gave him the opportunity to intern with Ernst & Young this past summer in his home city of Hamburg, Germany.
"It was such a great experience. This was my first opportunity to actually participate in an internship and gain real world experience in business," said Bruening.
Ultimately Bruening risked everything to come and play for the Tar Heels. He left his home and his family to pursue the chance at playing for one of the most elite soccer programs in the country. But maybe in retrospect these were not really risks, but in fact opportunities.
His reward? Bruening has become a standout player and essential puzzle piece to the men's soccer team which has lost only once heading into the stretch run of the season in October. He has met teammates who have become like family when his own is thousands of miles away and he has learned to love cliché Americanisms such as football and country music. But most importantly, even after his journey is over, Bruening will be able to call himself a Tar Heel for life.