Jordan Genmark Heath explains his path from Sweden to Notre Dame
NOTRE DAME, Ind. -- Notre Dame linebacker Jordan Genmark Heath has always found a way to stand out. Born in Stockholm, Sweden his friends grew up playing sports like hockey and handball but Genmark Heath discovered American football and it literally changed his life.
The distance between South Bend and Stockholm is 4244 miles. That's how far football has taken Genmark Heath.
"I didn't really think about that being an attainable goal for me, but now I guess I'm in a different boat," Genmark Heath said.
Genmark Heath grew up near Stockholm surrounded by water, natural beauty, architecture and culture.
While most of his friends were into the typical Swedish sports Genmark Heath had other interests.
"The most popular sports are like hockey, soccer and then handball. It's kind of a weird sport, I don't really get it. I tried to play hockey but I started when I was too old. I wanted to start when I was 6 or 7, but most of my friends started skating when they were like 4," Genmark Heath said. "And then soccer we played for fun with my friends but I was way too aggressive. I would always get ejected out of games and then I found football and it was perfect."
Genmark Heath's cousin talked him into trying the new sport and he was hooked.
But American style football was not introduced in Sweden until 1991 so Genmark Heath had to get creative when it came to learning the ins and outs of the game.
"I learned a lot from watching other people. YouTube videos so, I would look up how to catch, how to run routes, I still use it now," Genmark Heath said.
While football may have been a little different to his friends at home it became a family tradition.
Despite the 9 hour time difference the NFL found its way onto his family's television.
"My step dad has always been a football fan or just a fan of the US in general. So when I was younger, I would go to sleep around 5:30 p.m. and I would wake up around 12 or 1 and we would grill some burgers and watch the Chargers play at night and then I would go to school after the game. I was super tired but it was worth it," Genmark Heath said.
That love for America led to a major move
When he was a teenager he moved with his mom and stepdad to San Diego, California, but the transition from Sweden to America was not easy.
"It was really hard academically. So I struggled a lot, having everything in English. It was actually to the point that I wanted to go back home. So, even now, school is hard, I still kind of fight through it, but it's gotten a lot better," Genmark Heath said.
He relied on American music and television to help him learn English
"We watched a lot of like, Friends. Me and my mom watched like Desperate Housewives. We watched a lot of that," Genmark Heath said.
Genmark Heath doesn't have a Swedish accent.
"I try. When I first came here, I had kind of an accent, because my dad's from London. Kind of a Britishy accent I guess. So, I was already bigger. I was black from Sweden and I played football and I had an accent, so it was just too much. I eliminated the accent part," Genmark Heath said.
While he learned to master the English language and the x's and o's of football he discovered there was still a lot to learn when it came to the recruiting process.
"I had no clue about college football at all. Honestly, I didn't even have a plan when I moved here. My big dream was to play high school football and then my freshman year I started getting recruited. Funny story actually, so I picked up my first offer from San Jose State. And the coach came by the school and he was like 'We'd like to offer you a scholarship.' And I didn't know what that meant so I just kind of high fived him and just walked away. He came back two weeks later and said 'You do realize we offered you a scholarship to come play football here.' And I was like 'Oh.' So that's how it started. So we had to like kind of explore," Genmark Heath said.
Genmark Heath eventually figured out the recruiting process and accepted a scholarship to play football at Notre Dame.
Now a sophomore once again, Genmark Heath finds himself in a transition period moving from safety to linebacker this season.
"I just got moved up to linebacker, so I'm still kind of learning that position so I'm going back to my routes of YouTube to figure it out," Genmark Heath said.
The story of his last name is a special one.
His biological father's name is Calvin Heath. His stepdad's name is Krister's Genmark.
Because he is close with both his fathers, he changed his name 8 years ago to include his stepdad's name - to become Jordan Genmark Heath.