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Turning Pro: Michigan Native Caleb Stanko Builds a Career at Freiburg

Michigan native Caleb Stanko moved to Germany from Development Academy club Vardar nearly eight months ago. After a three-month trial period, the center midfielder signed for Freiburg in Germany, joining the club’s setup in his first step as a professional. But as most young professionals learn, the path to becoming a successful pro is littered with ups and downs.

“When I first came, it was really tough because I had all these new things,” said Stanko. “The guys know you’re new, and then you make a mistake and everyone’s getting on you.”

Off the field, it’s also a new experience. In Stanko’s case, that meant living away from home and alone for the first time. The 18-year old could have moved into the club’s housing for youth players, but he would have had to move out on his nineteenth birthday. That meant he opted for the apartment on his own: bold move.

“Of course it’s a lot to get used to!” he says, when talking about living on his own. “But I like to cook, and my family is a big cooking family. Still it was definitely a culture shock.”

But little by little Stanko gained confidence on the field, taking each training session day-by-day and working on improving his game at Freiburg.

“You have to pay your dues,” said Stanko. “You have to show everyone that you’re willing to work hard, and you have to show the coaches you want to work hard and be on the team. You can’t just come in as a prima donna.”

He also got used to the life in Germany, a culture consumed by soccer. Whether you turn on the TV or open a newspaper, you’re guaranteed to see anything and everything about “fuszligball.”

“It’s great,” said Stanko. “People’s lives in Freiburg are all about soccer. I really like that. You have something to talk about with everyone.”

When a player turns professional, he or she can’t really know what to expect. It’s a new experience that players have to live through and adapt to in their own way. But even with those ups and downs, Stanko talked about how playing for Vardar helped prepare him to make the jump to the professional ranks.

“The last two years in the Development Academy really helped my game a lot,” said Stanko. “We played against better teams and were exposed to different types of games.”

With the camp wrapped up in Germany, Stanko will headed back to Freiburg with the experience of a U-23 Men’s National Team camp under his belt. But if he’s learned anything during his first eight months in Germany, it’s that there’s no time to rest on any laurels, and you have to keep moving forward.

“You just have to dig deep and keep working hard,” said Stanko. “Some weeks are good, some weeks are bad, but you know that you have to keep working week to week.”

Stanko’s next trip back home to the U.S. will be during the winter break. All the teams in Germany take off for some of December and most of January, and Stanko will be heading back to his family in the Midwest. What’s the first thing he’ll do?

“Going to go see my mom and give her a hug,” he said with a smile.

Even though he’s managed living on his own in Freiburg, it’s always nice to come home.

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