The first time he laid eyes on the University of Dayton campus – in a video the school had produced – Jonas Fjeldberg said: “It was like something out of a movie. It was just so nice.”
Saturday, as he stood on the deserted UD campus, the Flyers soccer star gave credence to what he’d told me a couple of days earlier:
“It’s like a ghost town. It feels very weird right now. It’s not very comfortable here at all.”
What a difference from just three Saturdays ago.
That was when ESPN’s College GameDay crew came to campus and beamed Flyers’ fever to an entire nation. Several thousand people – many of whom showed up in the pre-dawn darkness and joined a line that stretched from the closed doors of the Frericks Centers all the way past the blue-domed UD chapel – eventually packed into the former basketball home of the Flyers once the doors opened for the 11 am broadcast.
They had carried signs and cheered and showed their head-over-heels love for this year’s team, which was ranked No. 3 in the nation and later that night would close out the regular season with a romp over George Washington at sold-out UD Arena, a victory that lifted the Flyers record to a 29-2, the best mark in school history.
“It’s just incredible,” said UD’s veteran soccer coach Dennis Currier. “It wasn’t but three weeks ago we were going to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
“And now here’s UD Arena with its $70 million upgrade – a place that was hoppin’ and crazy and where everyone was going to the games – and now it’s a Covid-19 testing center. It’s just unbelievable the way this has gone.”
The stars of the show now at the Arena no longer wear those white home uniforms with a stylized, red “DAYTON” across the chest. They are protected by Hazmat suits, plastic visors and rubber gloves.
In a move more impactful than a between-the-legs Obi Toppin dunk, they swirl long-stemmed swabs into one nasal passage after another.
“When you’d watch the news and see all the things that happen in the world – earthquakes, tornadoes, tragedy – you used to think, ‘That happens someplace else, not here,’” Currier said.
“But now that news is us. Tornadoes, a (mass) shooting and Covid-19, we have it all right here. It’s crazy.”
It has been a rough 10 months for Currier. Last May, one of the Memorial Day tornadoes roared through his family’s five acres on the Beavercreek/ Xenia Township line. And while his home was spared, he said there was over $100,000 damage to all the trees.
Now the coronavirus pandemic has closed down much of the country, including the UD campus. Instead of playing in the special Columbus Crew spring league with seven other college teams, the UD soccer team halted all activity and those players who could go home or at least to some place besides campus were told to do so.
But that’s not easy for UD’s men’s soccer team which has more international players on the roster than any other Flyers team.
“We have roughly 11 or 12 on our roster,” Currier said. “A lot of those guys, if they couldn’t get home, have stayed with a host family or friends of the program. But we had five players, for one reason or another, who couldn’t leave so we decided to house them on campus.”
Fjeldberg said he had a ticket to fly back home nine days ago but “at that time the school hadn’t yet been closed, so I cancelled my ticket.
“Then when it was announced the borders would be closed here and the school did say it would close for the rest of the semester, I tried to get back to Norway, but there were no flights. So I just decided to stay here and finish my work (online) for the rest of the semester.”
He’s living in a house on Irving Avenue with a player from Germany and a Nigerian-American from Dallas.
Two other soccer players – one from Nigeria, one from Ghana – are staying in the Marycrest dormitory.
Fjeldberg said he communicates with his family back home, via social media, almost daily.
“Norway’s been hit pretty bad by this too,” he said. “People in our country like to travel a lot and they bring home a lot of things from different parts of the world. So everybody is on lockdown now.”
The Norwegian prime minister Erna Solberg has instituted the strongest, most sweeping protective measures the nation has ever seen in peacetime.
Schools and universities are all closed until after Easter. People who do fly in from another nation are quarantined for 14 days. People who break quarantines can be given a $2,000 (20,000 kroner) fine or a 15-day jail sentence.
“I took the threat pretty lightly at first, until I heard about Italy,” Fjeldberg said. “Now I think if you still take it lightly as a young person and keep up ways you’ve been doing things, you are a very immature person and you can hurt other people.
“I figure even if I get it, I probably can survive it. But I fear all the time for my family. My parents are professors and my grandmother works in nursing home.”
Video of the day
Fjeldberg ending up at UD is something of a fluke.
After finishing high school in Norway, he was at a crossroads, deciding what was next for him: Would he continue with his schooling or stay on a path to a pro soccer career.
He admitted he knew almost nothing about college sports in America – he had never been to the US—and he said he hadn’t “put my name into the (players’) portal or signed with one of the (recruiting) companies.”
But a video changed everything Currier said:
“Years ago we started this thing with our coaching staff called the video of the day. Each of us would spend a little time each day finding the best players on video. We’d check YouTube and those recruiting sites wherever we could.
“At the end of the day, it was kind of a fun thing to get together and each show the video of the best player we came across.
“And one of my assistants then found a video of Jonas and it was our top video. We didn’t know him, but my assistant reached out on Facebook.”
“The things he said seemed pretty interesting,” Fjeldberg remembered. “They offered me a chance to study AND do soccer. And I thought, ‘This is exactly what I’m looking for.’”
He said he had never heard of Dayton before so he Googled it: “They had these nice pictures and a video and I said, ‘This is where I want to go.’ I didn’t see any reason to talk to anybody else. They were offering an opportunity and I took it.”
He accepted a scholarship offer from the Flyers without ever visiting the campus or meeting one of the coaches face to face.
Great find for Flyers
He admits he was a bit brash.
“I didn’t realize what I was doing until I got to the airport and my mom started crying,” he said. “That’s when I realized I wouldn’t see my parents for six months.”
He arrived in Dayton in the summer, before most students had returned to campus and the soccer preseason had begun.
“I went to stay at this house where there were other college students living and it was very dirty,” he said. “And all of a sudden I was like, ‘What am I doing? What am I getting myself into?’”
That naivety makes him laugh now:
“It took me some time to get used to everything and realize this place is awesome. They take such good care of you. It’s actually pretty surreal here. I definitely made the right decision. “
Currier and his staff can say the same thing about recruiting him.
Fjeldberg has turned into a great find.
He made the Atlantic 10’s All-Rookie Team as a freshman in 2017. The next season he led the Flyers in scoring.
Last fall, his junior campaign, he was the Atlantic 10 Offensive Player of the Year and the Flyers’ MVP.
“We’re so fortunate because he is very good,” Currier said. “He’ll have a chance to play professionally after this. He’s already got some interest from MLS teams. And even if he didn’t play, he’ll have the benefit of having a degree to fall back on.”
Fjeldberg admitted this has worked out better than he had dreamed. “I wish I could be in college the rest of my life,” he laughed.
Of course he was talking about being in a college setting that looks like “something out of a movie.”
As he stood on the edge of UD’s University Circle on Saturday, between the Frericks Center and the chapel – the very spot where the GameDay line of thousands had snaked through just three Saturdays ago – he saw absolutely no one else.
“This is pretty sad,” he said quietly.
It was a ghost town.