Acing Adversity

By Leon Huck

If you exclude the one week I visited San Francisco with my brother, my first experience in America was at a Walmart in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Born and raised in Germany, my plane had just landed, and I was equally nervous and excited to start my freshman year playing tennis at Tusculum University.

When my coach picked me up from the airport, we both agreed that I needed some supplies to help me get settled.

After all, there’s only so much I can pack in a suitcase.

As he was taking me to Walmart, he gave me a heads up that I’m probably going to be in for a bit of a culture shock.

He wasn’t joking.

The lifestyle in Knoxville couldn’t hardly be any different from my hometown in Germany.

It made me laugh that day comparing the two, and it still does to this day, but I absolutely loved it.

I couldn’t wait to make America my home for the next four years, but it wouldn’t be without its challenges.

In addition to moving alone to a new country not knowing anyone, there would be coaching changes, navigating the transfer portal, and proving myself on the court.

Despite those challenges, what’s always fascinated me about tennis is the parallel it has to life.

There are always going to be ups and downs, but I’ve consistently told myself if I put my head down and go to work, I would be rewarded and overcome any obstacles and adversity that comes my way.

A looming decision

I wasn’t heavily recruited out of high school, so I knew once I got to Tusculum, I’d have to work my way up the ladder and prove myself.

As a freshman, I was number six in the lineup, which I honestly was grateful for.

We had an extremely talented team, and I believed I’d only get better with my work ethic and the direction of the coaching staff.

In my second year, everything came together for me just like I’d hoped. I moved up third in the lineup and had the honor of being named a captain.

When you move to a new country and university without knowing anyone, you aren’t really sure how everything’s going to go, but my first two years couldn’t have gone much better.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, I went back home to Germany over summer break when I got a call from my coach letting me know that he was taking a position at a DI school and wanted to bring me with him.

I had a big decision to make – a decision that would ultimately define the remaining years of my collegiate career.

Unexpected opportunities

After talking with some teammates and my family, I was set on following my coach, but a funny thing happened when I entered the transfer portal.

Unlike my high school recruiting, I started gaining traction and serious interest from big-time DI programs.

A school that caught my eye and I began communicating the most with was DePaul, led by Coach Brothers.

Not only are they a successful tennis program that had just won their conference, but they’re also located in Chicago.

The idea of playing in such a world-renowned city piqued my interest; I just wasn’t sure if I’d receive a strong enough offer for it to be a possibility.

Sure enough, to my surprise, I received a great offer from Coach Brothers and officially became a DePaul Blue Demon.

I was ecstatic and had endless gratitude for the opportunity to play DI tennis at a prestigious program in the Big East.

Despite those challenges, what’s always fascinated me about tennis is the parallel it has to life. There are always going to be ups and downs, but I’ve consistently told myself if I put my head down and go to work, I would be rewarded and overcome any obstacles and adversity that comes my way.

A championship welcome

Much like when I started as a freshman at Tusculum, there would be a new set of challenges I’d have to face playing at DePaul.

Once again, I started out sixth in the lineup and was determined to work my way up like I had before.

It was different this time, though. Going from DII to DI tennis is challenging in itself.

There are higher expectations here, so that pressure has always been there to drive and motivate me.

It’s no surprise that DI tennis also has more resources, which have been incredible at DePaul. With more resources comes more support, and I’ve had so many different people help me make that leap and transition from DII to DI tennis.

Once I was able to settle in and be surrounded by so much support, I contributed to helping the team win the 2022 Big East Championship in my first year.

It’s easily been my favorite moment at DePaul thus far, and I can’t tell you how surreal it was to play a role in bringing another championship trophy back home to Chicago.

I feel beyond blessed for Coach Brothers and my teammates welcoming me in with open arms and being a part of such a special group.

Coming into my own

To say I’m a completely different person now compared to the kid who stepped off that plane as a freshman would be a major understatement.

There are various factors that have led to me growing as a person and player in my collegiate career.

The environment in America and going to college for the first time was something I had to adapt and grow accustomed to.

The competitiveness of starting sixth in the lineup and moving up at both Tusculum and DePaul challenged me every single day to continue to improve and get better.

But I believe what helped me overcome adversity more than anything was that I had to rely on myself to push through when things got hard.

My family has always been there for me, but it’s not like I could go back home to Germany every time I faced a problem or issue in my life.

There were many times I found myself alone in my room, thinking about how I could solve or handle a situation, and I’m better for it.

It’s made me a stronger and more independent person, and it’s undoubtedly helped me throughout my career as a student-athlete, both on and off the tennis court.

As a team captain this year, I couldn’t think of a better group of guys to compete with in my final season.

We’re a talented, mature team, and like every season, we have our sights set on bringing another Big East championship back to DePaul where it rightfully belongs.

But we also set a goal before the season of winning the first round of NCAAs. We know we have the team to do it, despite the fierce competition that is only getting better.

It’s not going to be easy, but nothing worth pursuing ever is.

If I never got on that plane that left Germany to come to America, I’m not sure where I’d be today, but I can assure you that I wouldn’t have the belief in myself.

And for that, regardless of what my future holds, I’ll be forever grateful.

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