The 2021 North Cross football team has been a handful for its opponents.
The Raiders scored 56 points in the first half against Giles.
They held one of the state’s premier running backs to fewer than 100 yards total in two games.
So when North Cross lines up Friday night against Atlantic Shores Christian in the VISAA Division II championship game at Virginia Beach Sportsplex, what’s left to say?
How about telling the opposing team what is coming?
Just one problem.
The conversation might be in German.
North Cross has 13 international players on its roster and eight have a starting role.
The lineup includes four players from Germany — tight end Marc Noetzel, outside linebacker Moritz Schmoranzer, strong safety Ethan Ferguson and offensive tackle Hannes Hammer.
Add in wide receiver Moritz Mittendorfer (Austria), defensive end Lambert Raczynski (Poland), cornerback Iver Haugbotn (Norway) and right guard Omri Niv (Israel) to make up the recipe for the North Cross melting pot.
North Cross has suited up students from other countries like China and Australia in recent years, but the 2021 wave has reached a crest.
Five other international players are on the team: Danny Phung from Vietnam, Edward Ma and Eason Zhou from China, Luca Batchen from Germany and Boaz Atia from Israel.
“This year it blew up,” North Cross coach Stephen Alexander said.
The international students reside in downtown Roanoke in the old Boxley Building that the school converted into a dormitory five years ago in what began as a joint venture with Roanoke Catholic.
Now all the students housed in the dorm attend North Cross, and they hail from 14 countries.
“Finding a kid a host family can be a real disaster,” Alexander said. “The dormitory thing is the ticket.
“The cool thing is we’ve got a lot of momentum. We’ve got three Southeast Asians on the team now.”
Noetzel was the first of North Cross’ eight international players in the starting lineup to cross the Atlantic when he arrived from Munich as a junior.
“It was a little scary,” he said. “My English wasn’t the best. But I feel really confident here. I got a lot of help from Coach [Alexander], every staff member at the dorm. Now it’s amazing.”
Noetzel played on a club team in Germany, but because he hopes to stay in the United States and play college football, he found the experience lacking.
“In the U.S. we have five times a week practice and in Munich only twice,” he said. “The intensity here is higher and everybody is more skilled.”
Noetzel spread the word about North Cross back home. Once travel restrictions were eased amid the COVID-19 pandemic, he became a pigskin Pied Piper.
“I talked to almost everyone before they came here, what it’s like to be here,” he said. “Now I’m happy to see them on the football field.”
Ferguson is an American citizen of American and Chinese descent living in Germany where his father, who played college football at Alabama for Gene Stallings, was Noetzel’s club team coach in Munich.
Reports from Noetzel were so encouraging, Ferguson’s father decided to send his son to North Cross.
Alexander said the number of international kids looking to play high school football is growing. Some pay for services that help initiate contacts with American schools.
Raczynski came to North Cross as a senior after he attended a prep school in New Jersey but could no longer remain with his host family.
“At that point our word of mouth was such that we were one of the two schools he reached out to,” Alexander said.
The North Cross coach said the interview process for the international students is the same for domestic applicants.
“I’m going to take a kid that’s good for the school,” the coach said. “If he’s a good kid. We’re going to give him a shot. It’s the same thing with domestic kids. We’ve turned away more domestic kids than we’ve accepted the last 12 years because you have to be able to fit into the school.
“The caliber of kid that it takes to do what they do ... most of these kids are some of the finest young men that you’ll meet. They have the gumption and the courage and the mental toughness to do this.
“They’re good students. They’ve made a tremendously positive impact on student life. They’ve been leaders. It’s a very positive.”
And it doesn’t hurt the football team when one of them is likely to get an FBS scholarship offer.
Hammer is a 6-foot-7, 270-pound junior who has earned notice from several ACC schools.
This is Hammer’s first year of playing 11-man football.
The 2021 team had some growing pains.
“Opening game, it was like we had eight rookies on the field,” Alexander said. “They’ve all made drastic improvement. We’re a lot better team than we were at the beginning of the year, which is always what you want but it was a little more pronounced this year.”
Noetzel, who has recovered from a torn ACL in the 2020 season opener, said he and his teammates occasionally use their native languages on the field.
“Sometimes we talk German to each other,” he said. “That’s really funny, to see opponents not knowing what we are talking about.”
Now Noetzel sounds like any American kid suiting up to play in a state championship game.
“I’m just excited to ball out and play football with my teammates and hopefully celebrate at the end,” he said.
Contact Robert Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or