Hjalte Froholdt’s football dream has taken him on an interesting tour of America.
He attended Warren G. Harding High School near Youngstown and spent a year at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. He played for the Razorbacks in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and was drafted in the fourth round in 2019 by the Patriots in Foxborough, Massachusetts. He’s been with the Browns in Berea for the last 11 months.
Each stop a new adventure, a different culture and a world away from his home in Svenborg, Denmark, which he described as a “small harbor town.”
“Svenborg’s beautiful. It is,” Froholdt said Tuesday in an interview with The Chronicle-Telegram.
Before his story can continue, a pronunciation guide is necessary. Pro Bowl guards Joel Bitonio and Wyatt Teller, who are ahead of Froholdt on the depth chart, were quick with the lesson.
“YELL-duh,” Bitonio said.
“It’s pretty easy to screw up,” said Froholdt (FROH-holt) of the first name that doesn’t contain a y or a d.
Froholdt, who turned 26 on Aug. 20, misses his family, speaking Danish, his mom’s cooking and his native cuisine — he singled out liver paste and red beets on hard rye bread, saying “that slaps” — but is grateful for his journey across America. His wife is from Los Angeles and they live in Phoenix during the offseason, so he’s pretty much covered the country.
“Once you kind of drive pretty much all the way across the country, you kind of realize how stupid big the country is,” he said. “You’re like, wow, there’s so many people here.
“You just see the same thing all across. Just really nice people, always welcoming, especially both in Ohio and in the South, where it’s all like, ‘Hey, y’all come on in,’ and love and all that. Just met nothing but hospitality and nice people.”
LOVE OF THE GAME
Morten Andersen is the only other Dane to play in the NFL. Andersen kicked for 25 seasons, so Froholdt has some catching up to do with 14 games and 61 offensive snaps.
He’s already come a long way.
Froholdt wanted to play rugby as a kid because his mom grew up in New Zealand and her cousin played for the All Blacks. But the only team in Denmark was 40 minutes away.
“Football was like the next-closest thing. So I tried it out and kind of stuck to it,” he said.
He was 12 years old, wasn’t great at tennis or basketball, went to a couple of football camps in the U.S. and a few years later signed up to be an exchange student. He wrote on the form how much he loved football and was placed with a family in Warren.
“Just tried to play really hard and they took me in, was really nice to me,” he said. “It was really easy to fall in, assimilate to the culture.”
He did have to deal with some ignorant questions: Do you celebrate Christmas in Denmark? Are there phones? Do you live in trees?
The answers: yes, yes and no.
“‘Guys, we are a developed country. We do normal things,’” he said.
He returned to Europe, moved to Sweden and played football in Denmark, traveling across the bridge every day. Then he went to IMG for his senior year.
He was a strong and talented defensive lineman who became a big-time recruit. Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State were interested, and his father joined him on the circuit of visits that included a sit-down with then-Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer.
“It was a crazy experience and my parents didn’t have a clue,” Froholdt said of the recruiting process.
Arkansas was the first school to offer a scholarship, and he liked the campus.
“Fayetteville was just a little bubble. It’s completely different from the rest of Arkansas,” he said. “It just felt right.”
He was switched to offensive line as a sophomore, became a three-year starter mostly at guard, earned All-SEC and all-academic honors and was the first player from Denmark invited to the scouting combine.
LOOKING TO STICK
The 6-foot-5, 310-pound redhead gets recognized by some when he returns to Denmark — which didn’t happen for 2½ years because of pandemic travel rules — but he’s not a national hero.
“No, not at all,” he said. “(My teammates) joke with me, too. They’re like, ‘When Hjalte goes home, he is more famous than the queen.’
“Maybe sometimes people notice, but it’s nothing crazy.”
Maybe that will change if he becomes an NFL starter for the first time. He played in eight games for the Patriots in 2020, mostly on special teams, then in six games for the Browns last year, exclusively on special teams.
He’s in a battle to earn a roster spot as a backup on the interior. Michael Dunn appears to have one locked up, with Froholdt, Drew Forbes and Blake Hance competing for a spot or two.
“I just focus every day on getting better,” Froholdt said. “Once you get too caught up in that stuff, it’s hard to focus on what really matters, which is being a better football player every day and trying to learn from all the guys around and having a good time.
“Of course, it’s a little stressful in these times in camp, but just focus on getting better, then you can kind of just lock it in.”
In a group of huge men, Froholdt stands out.
“He’s super strong,” Bitonio said. “If you look at his quads, we always joke around how big his legs are and how powerful he is, but he’s a smart guy. He could really play all three positions inside. He can move people. He can move pretty well, too.
“We have a lot of guys on the inside I think that can be valuable to this team and he’s definitely one of them.”
Teller focused on Froholdt’s intelligence.
“Amazing guy, sits next to me in meetings, extremely smart,” Teller said. “His attention to detail is amazing. He works hard, he trains hard and he’s a good player, he plays hard.
“There was a play the other day in the game and he was finishing 15, 20 yards down the field and it shows up all the time, it’s the kind of guy he is.”
The start to Froholdt’s career hasn’t been as smooth as hoped but he’s still young and forging ahead.
“It’s definitely been hard, but I couldn’t be in a better place right now,” he said. “Have a great coach, have some great players around me, have a really good offensive line room can learn a lot from, also just super good dudes. So definitely liking it here.”
HOME AT LAST
Froholdt hopes to play for many years, but at some point will have to decide whether to settle down in Denmark or America with his wife, Ashley, who was a star softball player at Arkansas.
“We’ll see what happens, but it’s kind of hard,” he said. “We’ve talked about it a little bit, but just kind of trying to get through this football journey and then worry about all that stuff maybe later.”
He has a brother and sister, and his family came over around Christmas last year. He was finally able to get back to Denmark in the spring after 2½ years.
“It was great,” he said.
He misses the routines of home, including the kabobs.
“I know I miss talking Danish on a daily basis. My Danish has gotten a little rusty lately,” he said. “Just being around Danish people and eating Danish food. Like the Danish, the way you interact is a little bit different.
“I probably think mostly about Denmark because my family’s there, because I have a really, really tight-knit relationship with my brother and my sister and my parents. They’re my biggest supporters and network.”
He also really appreciates the backing he’s received in America.
“Everybody gets really excited for other people’s success in a way,” he said. “Not that I don’t get it in Denmark, but there’s so much push for greatness in a way.
“There’s a lot of push and ‘come on, we can do this.’ I do like that aspect of U.S. in a way, there’s always more, you can always do better.”