Owen Krebs embodies everything that is Berkeley: passion, engagement and the desire to make the world a better place. Last winter, the energetic 24-year-old relocated to Ecuador where the former Berkeley High School football player is now helping coach Lobos De Quito, Ecuador’s first American football team.
The Lobos are coming off their first ever exhibition match against a team from Lima, Peru. Berkeleyside caught up with Krebs as he prepares his team for its upcoming international match against Colombia in October. The team has been generating excitement throughout the nation. Earlier this month Ecuador’s La Hora published a feature on the team, dubbed “The other football,” and EcuadorTV had members of the team on its program earlier this year. The team’s Facebook page has more than 1,300 fans.
Krebs grew up in South Berkeley and attended Berkeley public schools. At Berkeley High, he excelled in the classroom as well as on the volleyball court and the football field. He played so well throughout high school that, at the end of his senior season, in 2008, he was offered football scholarships to attend both Idaho State University and Humboldt State University. Krebs went with the latter, choosing to stay closer to friends and family. It wasn’t until his senior year at HSU, majoring in international studies, when he was presented with the chance to study abroad. That was how he found himself in Ecuador.
“I needed to travel outside the U.S. for my major at HSU,” Krebs said. “The only real program HSU offered me was going out here to Quito, Ecuador. After that I fell in love with the city.”
It was Krebs’ first experience with traveling and studying abroad. He says initially he was struck by the country’s overall beauty. He loved the culture, the people, the mountains, the coast, everything that Ecuador had to offer.
During his first visit there in 2011 with HSU’s study abroad program, he tutored young people in English. He enjoyed helping others, and building relationships with the host family he lived with, as well as others in the community. But he had no idea he would be returning just a few years later.
After completing his semester abroad, Krebs returned to the States to finish his classes and graduate. He decided to go to Mozambique with the Peace Corps. But a few weeks before it was time to leave, he changed his mind. In the end, he said, he felt strongly about the need to follow his own path and wasn’t sure the Peace Corps would allow him to do that. He would have to follow its rules and guidelines, which wasn’t exactly what he was looking for as his departure date approached. So he went back to Quito and decided to make his mark there.
“I came back to Quito because I loved it so much,” Krebs says. Since he returned to Ecuado last year, he is trying to make a difference the only way he knows how: through time and effort.
When asked how he came across the opportunity to coach, Krebs said he was just in the right place at the right time.
“I was walking back to my house after playing basketball and saw some players with pads on in the main park,” said Krebs. “I asked them what was going on and the only other white guy told me it was the first official football team here in Ecuador and I should check it out some time.”
A few weeks later Krebs returned to that same park and jumped right in to help some of the players. It didn’t take long for him to join the coaching staff. Krebs said he didn’t expect coaching to come as easily to him as it did. He thought his broken Spanish would hold him back, but he was able to overcome the language barrier by using demonstrations and concrete examples for the players.
Krebs credits his Berkeley High position coach Vince Borderline for the techniques and methods he is using in Ecuador. When asked about Krebs, Borderline had no problem remembering his former player’s strengths, even though he graduated seven years ago.
“Owen was always a hard worker and quick learner,” said Borderline. “I had the pleasure of coaching him for two years at Berkeley High and he was one of my most reliable kids. It’s no shocker to me that he has not only developed those qualities that I saw in him as a young man, but it is great to see him paying it forward and teaching those same qualities to the next generation.”
Alongside his coaching duties, which include making sure his team’s defensive line is ready for its upcoming games, he finds other ways to help by working in impoverished communities with Techo-Ecuador, building housing and working on other community development projects.
Krebs gives Berkeley the credit for his sense of urgency when it comes to making a difference in the world around him. He says the way he grew up ultimately led to his view on life, and to his desire to play his part in bringing positive learning and growing experiences to young people.
“Growing up by Ashby BART in South Berkeley really gave me a first-hand experience about promoting change,” says Krebs. “I got to see what the differences were between me being white and my friends who were black or Latina. Then, when I went De La Salle for my first two years of high school and got the chance to witness life outside of Berkeley, it really hit me that not all situations are created equal.”
Krebs said he hopes to stay in Ecuador for the foreseeable future, and could even see himself settling down there.
“I’m working on getting my five-year visa and I’m not sure what will come after,” said Krebs. “Anything could happen. It’s not too farfetched in my eyes to have Quito as my permanent residency.”
Lobos De Quito offensive coordinator Coach Calavero said Krebs’ firsthand experience has been one of his greatest assets in helping the team grow.
“Owen brings a lot of knowledge and firsthand experience to our coaching staff,” said Calavero. “He is one of the few people in the country that grew up playing American football and he was the only one to play college ball. He’s been most helpful with keeping the team disciplined and focused, and I think that is why we’ve made such progress in such a short time.”
It was in Berkeley that Krebs found football, and developed his respect for football coaches. When asked if he ever thought he would end up where he is, said Krebs: “I never had the slightest clue I would be coaching, let alone in Ecuador, in the first international football event in the country versus Peru and Colombia.” He continues: “It’s all about positive change for me, no matter what or where in the world.”
Op-ed: For college athletes, is graduation a celebration or a reality check? (06.24.15)
Get the latest Berkeley news in your inbox with Berkeleyside’s free Daily Briefing. And make sure to bookmark Berkeleyside’s pages on Facebook and Twitter. You don’t need an account on those sites to view important information.
Delency Parham is a Berkeley High alumnus who recently graduated from the University of Idaho, where he played cornerback for the Vandals.