NFL general managers are looking for several things when considering whether to add a player to a carefully crafted roster.
Big and fast, obviously, are on that list. So, too, is intelligence and the willingness to go the extra mile to help the team.
Check all of the above for North Carolina State’s Markus Kuhn.
At 6-foot-4 and 299 pounds, he’s the perfect size to play defensive end in a 3-4 scheme or defensive tackle in a 4-3. At the Scouting Combine, he ran the 40-yard dash in an impressive 4.89 seconds, with a vertical jump of 34 inches and 28 reps on the bench press. Among players listed as defensive tackles at the Combine, Kuhn’s 40 ranked fourth and his vertical tied for second.
What about going the extra mile?
In Kuhn’s case, it was about 4,200 miles.
Kuhn was 20 when he and his father took a three-week trip from their native Weinheim, Germany, in search of a U.S. college that would offer him a football scholarship.
“I was 14 and my entire family did a round-trip to Florida, just for vacation,” Kuhn, who graduated in May with a degree in business administration, said at the Scouting Combine. “We did the entire Disney World thing and I saw American football and the passion Americans had about it the first time here in the States. After that, I came back to Germany and was like, ‘Wow, I think just from the person I am and my size, it’s really something I’d like to do.’ I played all kinds of sports before that. There was a club team close by my house (the Weinheim Longhorns) and my sister’s classmates were in it and took me to practice. After the first day I was there, I was like ‘Wow, that’s really something I want to do.’ I stuck with it since then.”
Turns out, Kuhn was a natural at it. He played linebacker and tight end for his club team, and even played a little quarterback his final year.
According to ProFootballReference.com, there were six players on NFL rosters last season who were born in Germany: receivers Brandon Gibson and Domenik Hixon, center Doug Legursky, defensive end Kyle Moore, tight end Mike Sellers and offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer. Of them, only Vollmer is a German national; the others come from military families.
Brian Spurlock/US Presswire
With an unquenchable passion for the sport, Kuhn and his dad, Wolfgang, turned the traditional recruiting process on its ear.
“My dad flew over here, made a highlight DVD, we translated all my transcripts and I pretty much showed up at a bunch of schools on the East Coast and walked in with a highlight DVD and said, ‘I’m Markus Kuhn and I can play American football, too.’”
At first, they concentrated on Football Championship Subdivision teams like Liberty, Richmond and William & Mary. With the interest high, they moved onto bigger schools and visited NC State, North Carolina, Virginia, Duke and East Carolina.
“People didn’t really believe me at first,” Kuhn said. “They were like, ‘You just flew over here from Germany?’ I would definitely say my size, even back then, helped. They said ‘OK, maybe there is some potential there that he actually could play football.’ The entire experience was crazy.”
During his visit to NC State, then-coach Chuck Amato invited Kuhn to participate in a high school combine the following day. Since Kuhn had graduated from high school, he couldn’t compete in the testing. Amato offered him a scholarship, anyway.
Amato, however, wound up getting fired and Kuhn was left in limbo. Kuhn sent e-mails to FBS coaches around the country and sent a copy of his highlights DVD to a couple of Internet recruiting services. Virginia wanted him, as long as he’d spend a year at prep school. Finally, just before national signing day in February 2007, new NC State coach Tom O’Brien made good on the scholarship offer. Markus and his dad hopped on a plane and, fittingly, as Markus tells it, Wolfgang’s son was a member of the Wolfpack.
Kuhn was thrown into the fire almost immediately. There would be no redshirt season, no time to get used to the level of competition or the intensity of being one of 80 players at practice instead of one of 10 or 15. A key reserve, the 21-year-old Kuhn was an honorable mention on The Sporting News’ freshmen All-America team while playing defensive tackle and end.
Kuhn started three games at end in 2008 but was asked to redshirt in 2009, with the coaches wanting him to bulk up for a move back to defensive tackle. The time to hone his craft – he battled daily against center Ted Larsen, who has started 14 games with Tampa Bay in his first two NFL seasons – rather than being in the game-to-game grind proved to be beneficial.
After being a key reserve in 2010, Kuhn started as a senior and tallied 4.5 sacks and nine tackles for losses. He was named third-team all-ACC and closed his career with a sack in the bowl game against Louisville.
Now, the NFL is calling. From the Scouting Combine to last week’s pro day – 22 teams attended – and all the way to next month’s draft, Kuhn will be selling himself to NFL teams, just like he did to colleges five years ago.
What some team will be getting is a player with a lot of upside. Because he didn’t start playing football until he was 15, he’s far from a finished product. On the bright side, all of those years participating in other athletic endeavors made Kuhn faster and quicker than your average 300-pounder.
“I started with soccer, like probably most German boys do,” he said. “I played tennis. I did a lot of Alpine sports, I did rock climbing a lot. I actually have a snowboarder’s instructor’s license. I’ve been snowboarding since I was 10 years old and skied since I was 6. I always missed more of the physical aspect of sports. I like to do something more physical and even competition against some other people. When I saw in practice you can hit each other and not really get in trouble for it, I definitely liked that part of it.”
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.