Justin Dickey: Ich bin ein futbol player

The first time he saw the price of H2O, Justin Dickey had a feeling he wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

“Water’s super expensive over there — it’s almost as expensive as beer,” the Central Arkansas tight end chuckled when asked about his teen years spent in Germany. “A lot of people smoke over there. There’s not as many smoking regulations.”

“Compared to the U.S., it’s a little bit behind.”

Well, it’s a little bit different, to be sure. And you could say the same for Dickey’s path to the Southland Conference.

Interesting, ja. Linear? Nein.

The 6-5 Dickey is a military brat, the son of an Air Force master sergeant who moved the family from Mulvane, Kan., a little town just outside of Wichita, to Ramstein Air Base midway through Justin’s prep football days.

“The biggest thing for me was my football and my career in football,” recalled Dickey, whose Bears (2-2, 2-0 Southland) visit Houston Baptist (2-3, 0-2) Saturday on ASN. “How was it going to change (with me) switching schools halfway through my high-school career? And making friends, too — I had just got settled down in Kansas and had to move in the middle of high school. It was hard, but once I got there I liked the change-up, the scenery. It was a nice place.”

And his game didn’t miss a beat. In Germany, Dickey blossomed into an All-European first-team defensive end and second-team tight end for Ramstein High School, as well as a top discus thrower with the Lions’ track team. He racked up 15 sacks and 18 tackles for loss as a senior at Ramstein en route to being tapped as Department of Defense MVP.

A massive target, the 235-pounder these days is one of the bigger cogs in a Bears passing attack that leads the Southland in completion percentage (66.2) and ranks second in yards per game (233.8). He’d committed to Central two Decembers ago out of Highland (Kan.) Community College, snaring 16 balls for 227 yards in the fall of 2013.

“I’d never been to Arkansas before, so this is a really new experience for me,” Dickey said. “I like it so far. It’s all right. It’s not as big as a culture shock as Germany was.”

Ramstein Air Base, home of the 86th Airlift Wing, is situated just outside of Kaiserslautern in western Germany, at the heart of central Europe. It’s part of a military community that includes more than 50,000 Americans — the largest concentration of Americans outside the United States. Dickey’s alma mater, Ramstein High, is a Department of Defense Dependents school, one of the larger such facilities linked to a military hub, and the Lions competed in the large-school division (Division I) against similar-sized peer programs across Germany and Europe.

“We would also go on trips to England, because they have a base over there,” Dickey recalled. “And we went down to Italy and played a couple Italian teams. Most of the bigger teams were down in Italy, yeah.”

But general interest was largely, shall we say, provincial. At least compared to the beautiful game, the soccer that dominates both the passion and the headlines abroad.

“They knew what (football) was like; I’m sure they just kind of got like the vague concept of football,” said Dickey, who’s snared two passes for 26 yards and a score this season for Central and last autumn logged five receptions for 112 yards — a cool 22.4 yards per grab — and two touchdowns.

“But being in Europe, their big sport is soccer, of course. They had all their Germany jerseys (for) the German national team.”

Something Dickey saw plenty of over two-plus years overseas, especially as his family lived off the base, rather than on it. Among the natives.

“The biggest thing was the language barrier, because we lived off-base,” the tight end said. “There’s a really long waiting list for base housing, so we didn’t get the base housing. So we got a stipend-sort-of-thing — they’d give us a certain amount of money to live off-base. I was living around Germans the whole time I was there.”

In other words, immersed, eingetaucht, water under the bridge. Pricey water, but still.

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