FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots selected an interior offensive lineman, Hjalte Froholdt, with the No. 118 overall pick, their first selection in the fourth round of the NFL Draft Saturday.
Froholdt, who played college football at Arkansas, hails from Svendborg, Denmark, and started playing football competitively as an exchange student his sophomore year at IMG Academy in Florida.
Froholdt, whose name is pronounced Yell-duh Fro-holt, didn’t go there for football; he was already interested in the game but didn’t think it would be his long-term future. He was mainly going for his idea of the American experience.
“I came over wanting to get a supersized meal and drive some big cars, and it turned out as something really different,” Froholdt said via conference call Saturday afternoon.
Football wasn’t Froholdt’s first ambition, anyway. When he was a little kid, he wanted to be a French art thief.
“I don’t know why, but me and my childhood friend, Carl, we wanted to be burglars in France, and you know you grow up and figure out that’s kind of frowned upon,” said Froholdt, who is 6 feet 6 inches and 306 pounds and is first positional player from Denmark ever drafted in the NFL. (Hall of Fame kicker named Morten Andersen was the first overall player — fourth round in 1982.)
But the dream changed, and by the time he was ready for college he was getting recruited by Southeastern Conference teams.
He was originally recruited as a defensive lineman by former Arkansas coach Bret Bielema, which currently a coaching consultant with the Patriots, but Froholdt switched to offense his sophomore year.
Froholdt wound up starting all 13 games at left guard that year, and also started all 12 games at left guard his junior season. Froholdt played three games at center and nine at guard his senior year for the Razorbacks and never gave up a sack. Some of his most impressive film came against Alabama’s Quinnen Williams, who was chosen third overall by the Jets.
He’s a good fit for the Patriots’ athletic standards for interior linemen. Froholdt had a vertical of 27.5 inches, just shy of left guard Joe Thuney’s mark in 2016.
You will hear concerns about Froholdt having short arms — 31¼ inches according to his combine measurements — but keep in mind the Patriots don’t really care.
“I think that [expletive] is way overrated,” offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia said last year.
Froholdt will compete with Ted Karras for a backup spot on the interior, but could be groomed as a possible replacement for Thuney, who will be a free agent next year.
Watch Froholdt get the call from the Patriots:
Read the full transcript from Froholdt’s conference call with reporters:
Q: What was your reaction when you got the call?
A: It’s extremely unrealistic [to make the NFL]. It’s been a dream of mine for a long time, one that really came to reality a couple of years ago when I thought I could do this. But I’m so excited and thankful for this opportunity. It still hasn’t really hit me yet. But I’m really grateful.
Q: You played mostly left guard last year, but have you played other spots on the interior?
A: You know, my first two years I started at left guard all of the games, and I played at some center and some right guard last year. But I feel pretty comfortable with all of them. It doesn’t really matter – I I’ll play wherever Coach Scar [Dante Scarnecchia] will put me and I’m excited to get to work with him and see where this goes.
Q: Did you have much contact with Dante Scarnecchia before the draft?
A: Honestly, no. I talked a little bit with one of the Patriot scouts early at the NFLPA Bowl. Other than that, I haven’t really had much contact.
Q: What do you know about Dante Scarnecchia?
A: A little bit but not quite a lot.
Q: What’s your relationship like with Bret Bielema and have you been in contact with him during the pre-draft process?
A: Coach B recruited me at Arkansas and I’ll always respect Coach B. The pretty much only contact we’ve been in is when I congratulated him for his new baby. I just missed him when I was broadcasting at the Super Bowl – I was with the Danish media – and I also just missed him at the combine. I just wanted to say hi. Other than that, I haven’t really spoken much with him.
Q: I saw that you were first introduced to football as a sophomore in high school. What drew you to it?
A: So, actually, I started playing football back in Denmark when I was 12. It started blowing up when I came to the States as an exchange student when I was a sophomore in high school. It was awesome being introduced to the game of football over here, and you guys are pretty good in what you do. It was a tough transition but it ended up going pretty well.
Q: Were you an exchange student with the idea that you would be able to develop better as a football player or did you just come for the academics?
A: I always had an interest in football but mainly it was because I wanted the American experience. I wanted to get better at football and take it back to Denmark and maybe play a little bit better back in Denmark and learn something. But, of course, there’s always been dreams and we kind of just talked about how it seemed unrealistic about college and the NFL and whatnot. It was never really the intention – I came over wanting to get a supersized meal and drive some big cars, and it turned out as something really different.
Q: Did you run into any of the German media when working for the media at the Super Bowl? Sebastian Vollmer is a guy that spent a lot of time here and was an international acquisition by the Patriots some time ago.
A: Unfortunately, no. We were up in the booth. I sat next to the Swedish media, but no. Basically, we were down on the field for a little bit doing some broadcasting down there and then went up into the box and broadcast the whole game.
Q: Do you have a relationship with Deatrich Wise, Jr.? During the Super Bowl broadcast, I think you said some nice things about him.
A: I played with him for a couple of years. He was not one of, but the most enthusiastic person I’ve ever been around. He’s always happy, he’s always excited and he plays with extreme passion and a motor that it really uncanny. I’m really excited to go and join him. It’s going to be awesome to reunite.
Q: What kind of player are you? What kind of player are the Patriots getting?
A: You’re getting a player that really cares. I love the game of football. I always played it just because I loved it. There was never really claims to come to this point, but I’m excited to be a Patriot and I literally can’t stress enough how excited I am. It’s going to be amazing to be up there and get out to Boston and be a part of that community.
Q: Did you have any nicknames in your locker room just related to you being from Denmark?
A: Some people thought it was pretty hard to pronounce my name so they just called me “Denmark.” But it’s not too hard. I guess I’ve had a couple that I really don’t quite remember.
Q: I read that you wanted to be an art thief when you were little. Is that still in the cards?
A: I don’t know why, but me and my childhood friend, Carl, we wanted to be burglars in France, and you know you grow up and figure out that’s kind of frowned upon. Obviously, the dream changed. I think my mom still has the paintings of me [drawing] stick figures stealing diamonds in France.
Q: We talk a lot about how the transition is sometimes difficult for offensive linemen coming from the college game to the pro game because the offenses are so different. What from the Arkansas offense do you think will help you transition a little bit more smoothly?
A: You know, going from Demark to Ohio in high school was a really, really tough transition. And going from high school to college moving back to O-line was an even tougher transition, so I feel like I’m ready for it. But under Coach B, we played in a more power scheme, 20 to 12 personnel. We were a little more spread this past year, and I’ll I’ve just seen from film the Patriots are really multiple. They do a bunch of things that try to confuse defenses. I’m excited to try to be a part of it. I need to get there to really figure out what’s going on before I can really say anything about how I’ll fit in. But I’m just excited to come in and get to know everybody and try to earn some respect in that organization.
Q: Do you have friends and family back in Denmark who are NFL fans? And how much do your people back home know about the Patriots?
A: I have a bunch of friends that texted me. My phone’s been blowing up. I haven’t really got back to texting many of them, but the Patriots are an amazing organization. Their track record is amazing. And of course we follow along back in Denmark. They might know more about the Patriots than I do. Everyone’s really excited. I’m sorry, I’m at a loss for words. I don’t really know what to say.