During spring break earlier this month, UND linebacker Tyron Vrede was in California with teammates Hayden Galvin and Pedro Schmidt when he received the phone call that let him know he'd been awarded an additional year of college football eligibility from the NCAA.

Vrede was shaking. He struggled to speak through tears.

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Who could blame him? You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who worked harder and traveled farther for the opportunity.

Vrede's home is 10 minutes outside the Amsterdam city center.

In the Netherlands, Vrede played soccer and didn't know much about American football. You can find games on television, he said, but most of them air in the middle of the night.

To make his path even more difficult, Vrede said the Netherlands doesn't allow kids to play contact football until they're 17.

"You had to play flag football because I guess they didn't like the contact," said Vrede, now 22.

At that point, Vrede's big break came from an unlikely source. A friend of his mom bought the video game Madden 2000 for Playstation 1.

"I should thank him for that," Vrede said. "I played it for about a month. I had a friend who played flag football, so I did that for a few months. I had played Madden, so I had a leg up on everyone."

After flag football, Vrede moved up to the contact ranks.

"I was always a physical soccer player, so that turned over well to football," Vrede said. "It was a little scary at the beginning, I'm not going to lie, but you get used to it."

When Vrede graduated from high school, he had no money and no college football offers.

Not many were interested in recruiting from an area not known for producing high-end football talent.

In order to make enough money to come to the United States to play junior college football, Vrede worked for two years at the KLM airport carrying luggage. He coached high school flag football and oversaw a gym.

Eventually, Vrede made a Dutch international football team that would play in Dallas, Texas, at the Cowboys' AT&T Stadium.

"That's when I knew I could play at an American level," Vrede said.

With that game, Vrede was able to make a highlight film and sent it around to junior college programs.

Vrede had one helpful in-road-with former UND linebacker and fellow Amsterdam native Dylan Bakker, who led UND in tackles in 2016 with 98 while starting 12 games. Vrede and Bakker played for the same Dutch club but were never there at the same time.

Bakker had played at West Hills Community College in Coalinga, Calif., and he was able to help Vrede land at West Hills.

Although his one year at West Hills was successful, the staff there was let go in the offseason.

"The staff got fired and it didn't seem like any recruiting was going on, so I had to look out for myself," Vrede said.

That led Vrede to Garden City Community College in Kansas, where he once again utilized the connection of Bakker to land his next opportunity.

UND defensive coordinator Eric Schmidt asked Bakker if he knew of anyone else from the Netherlands who could play at the Division I level.

"It was really late in the season during that winter break before we finalized everything," Vrede said. "It was a hectic situation but we made it work."

Yet that was just the start of another emotional rollercoaster.

Netherlands' education system is different than that in America. Vrede said there are three levels of high school there and the NCAA wanted to start his eligibility clock after his initial prep graduation.

"I provided all the paperwork, but they didn't know what I did was within school policy," Vrede said. "I had to get letters from advisors and prove I didn't forge any documents."

It wasn't until fall camp of 2018 that Vrede learned he received one season of eligibility.

"I took it day by day and was really grateful for another practice," Vrede said. "It has been a crazy, emotional ride. It makes you grateful for the team, for football and for the university."

Going through his first season of Division I football, Vrede was labeled as a senior. The 6-foot, 225-pound linebacker played in all 11 games. He had 23 tackles, 6.0 tackles for loss and a pair of sacks.

He participated at the start of spring practices in 2019 but wasn't given word from the NCAA until spring break.

He's especially thankful for the additional year in order to complete his degree in business management.

"I didn't want to go home without a degree," he said.

Vrede has been emotional both times he's been given the eligibility go-ahead.

"Everything you did before juco, I always wanted to play Division I ... for it to be taken away temporarily for something you can't really control ..." Vrede said. "You couldn't go to the states right away because you didn't have the money or the offer. And that's OK, you've got to find a way and I found a way. But you find that way, then it felt like everything was against me.

"It made me think how you need to be grateful for the people who were there for you in hard times. Everyone was really behind me. It shows a lot about the staff and the university. I really appreciate that."

Vrede's mother made the trip to Grand Forks for UND's 2018 homecoming game.

"She loved every second of it," he said. "She kept saying how everything is so big here-the university and the stadium. Now, her and my sister are trying to come next year, too."