Forget what you think you know about being competitive.
The dictionary definition only scratches the surface when it comes to Jakob Granlund. Winning, he says, is his favorite thing in the world, and losing, well, there is nothing worse.
He’s not sure where that competitive drive came from; maybe it sprouted from years of watching his father play professional soccer in Denmark or maybe it’s from growing up with two brothers close in age. Or perhaps it’s a case of nature, rather than nurture, and he was simply born with an innate hunger to dominate the competition.
Whatever it is, he’s got it. And it’s not going anywhere.
“I am just a really bad loser,” he said. “I hate losing and love winning. I love winning more than everything else.”
Granlund, a senior forward from Denmark, is the kind of guy who is so competitive, it’s almost scary. And if you don’t know him, he tips over almost, and right into frightening intensity.
Teammate Christo Michaelson first encountered Granlund on the field, so you can imagine what his first impression was. Now a junior, Michaelson said his freshman self was beyond intimidated after practicing with Granlund for the first time. But when they stepped off the field and unlaced their cleats Granlund transformed into an easygoing jokester.
“His personality on the field and off the field are two completely different things,” Michaelson said. “It is such a quick switch, it’s crazy. I’ve never seen anybody like that. He goes from the happiest guy to the most competitive person the on field.”
On Saturday, Granlund will take Luger Field one final time in a Senior Night game against Pacific.
It’s hard for him to swallow. He loves his team, he loves his school and he loves to win. So much so, that at times it has caused him pain, both physically and emotionally.
Since Granlund was a freshman, the Zags have gone 30-36-6. His college career, and this season in particular, has been peppered with injuries. Meaning in many of those losses, he wasn’t at 100 percent, or worse, couldn’t play at all.
When he talks about those injuries, it becomes apparent just how much Granlund cares about soccer and his team. His easy smile fades, his voice becomes flat and he struggles to find the words.
“This year with my injuries it has been really, really tough,” he said. “It bothers me so much not being able to be on the field and helping the guys out. Having to sit on the sideline and not being able to contribute to the team, it has been pretty hard. Especially since it was during a down period that I got my injury. Watching the team struggle and having me struggle with injuries was just not fun, it was just hard.”
It may sound cliché, but Granlund simply cares too much.
“He plays so hard,” head coach Einar Thorarinsson said. “He plays so hard all the time, and players like that have a chance to become injured.”
Playing at that level all the time is next to impossible to maintain without getting injured, but Granlund’s “all or nothing” philosophy serves as an inspiration to teammates.
Michaelson said Granlund is a quiet leader, and the kind of person you never want to let down. In part because he keeps his teammates in check, and lets them know when they’ve made a mistake, but mostly because he holds himself to such high standards.
“He isn’t the one that is super vocal or anything, but he is always going to get down to business and be competitive,” Michaelson said. “I’ve never seen someone get so mad in practice about losing a game. He is one of those guys that leads by example. You don’t want to make mistakes because you’ll hear it from him, but at the same time he has always got your back.”
Even while battling nagging injuries, and sitting out two games this season, Granlund has still managed to score four goals — tied for the most on the team with Michaelson and Nick Ulowetz — and dish out five assists, more than any other Zag.
But not surprisingly, he still wishes he could have done more. Played more, scored more, won more. Still, to those who know him best, his accomplishments as a Zag have been nothing short of special.
“I am proud of him for just staying with it, just sticking to it,” Thorarinsson said. “[At times] he just wasn’t happy with how he was producing because he wanted to do more for the team, and he was not able to do it because of his injuries, so it did get to him. What I’m happy with most is probably his overcoming that and being able to grow.”
Thorarinsson said when Granlund first came to Gonzaga, soccer seemed to be almost the only thing he cared about. Now, while soccer is still a priority, he has developed into a more well-rounded person.
“He has grown into a more mature person who realizes that there is more to life than just soccer,” Thorarinsson said.
Just not when he’s on the field.
With Gonzaga across his chest and No. 10 on his back, soccer and his team are the only things that matter.
Granlund doesn’t know what will happen after his GU soccer career is over. He hopes for an opportunity to play professionally, but if that doesn’t work out he will likely put his finance and international business degree to use.
But one thing is for sure: Whatever comes next in the game of life, Granlund will win. He’s too competitive not to.
Eden Laase is a sports editor. Follow her on Twitter: @eden_laase. Contact her at email@example.com.