Marcus Kuhn: Germany to Giants

Markus Kuhn warms up before playing against the Markus Kuhn warms up before playing against the Jets at MetLife Stadium. (Aug. 18, 2012) Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

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Markus Kuhn is the first to admit that he didn't have a clue.

If he had, he never would have had the guts to do what he did six years ago.

Kuhn, who lived in Germany outside of Frankfurt and played American football for a club team, thought it might be fun to try to play on the college level in the United States. So he and his father, Wolfgang, made a highlight DVD, booked a flight to Washington, D.C., and began driving down the East Coast cold-calling colleges.

"Good thing we were ignorant enough not to understand what a big deal college football is in the U.S.," Kuhn said. "Otherwise, I probably wouldn't be here."

"Here'' is Giants training camp, where the 26-year-old rookie is attempting to survive a crowded but injury-depleted field at defensive tackle. The Giants made the 6-4, 299-pound tackle their seventh-round pick out of North Carolina State this year. Through two preseason games, he has shown himself to be an interesting, albeit raw, prospect.

"He's a tough kid," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "He has great energy. He's got a lot to learn, but they are not obstacles in terms of his desire to be good and the time that he'll spend doing it. We're excited about him."

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Kuhn's journey to the NFL began improbably with a family vacation to Florida when he was 14 years old. In between trips to the beach and Disney World, Kuhn flipped on the television and started watching football.

"I knew this was a sport I had to play," he said.

Kuhn had been playing soccer since he was 7, but his father recalled in an email this week that he was always more interested in "fighting with the opponent than playing with the ball."

Kuhn said "football is considered a dangerous sport in Germany," so he had to wait until he was 15 to be eligible to play for the Weinheim Longhorns, a club team near their home.

"Football there is nothing compared to the U.S.," Kuhn said. "We would have 20 guys practicing twice a week for two hours and then a game on the weekends. There was no such thing as strength and conditioning."

Kuhn, who played quarterback and linebacker for the club's junior team, eventually was invited to play for the senior team. He led them to a second division championship.

When NFL Europe invited him to the league's player development camp in Tampa, Fla., he started thinking he might have a future in the sport. Even though he would be 21 as a freshman, he decided to see if he could get a college interested in signing him.

Kuhn took all the college entrance exams and sent emails out to colleges. Only Division I-AA Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., responded. He and his father started there and, after immediately being offered a spot on the team, decided to drop in on some larger schools, including East Carolina, North Carolina, Duke, Virginia and North Carolina State.

"I had my DVD and my translated transcripts and I walked into schools saying, 'Hey, here I am. Can I talk to some coaches?' " Markus said with a laugh.

Said Wolfgang: "Solely because the American people are very friendly, nobody was laughing about our wish for a scholarship."

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Kuhn picked North Carolina State, partially because their nickname, the Wolfpack, sounded like his father's first name.

Soon after he signed with North Carolina State, the coaching staff was fired. Defensive line coach Keith Willis, who had coached Giants linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka at Boston College, came in with the new staff. He remembers exactly what he was thinking the first time he saw tape of the mysterious recruit from Germany.

Said Willis, "He was incredibly raw."

But Willis said Kuhn began to impress him even before he got to school, repeatedly calling him from Germany.

"Markus worked incredibly hard and really wanted to learn," Willis said. "No one is going to outwork him. He takes it very seriously."

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Kuhn's teammates have been impressed with his work ethic, though they do tease him about his accent, calling him "The Terminator" and doing Arnold Schwarzenegger imitations while mimicking his voice. Early in camp, he cracked up a table full of teammates in the cafeteria when he put his plate down on the table and then announced, "I'll be back."

The big question for Kuhn is whether he will be on the Giants' final roster and join Patriots offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer as the only Germans playing in the NFL.

Though the cards seem stacked against him -- his advanced age for a rookie and raw skills -- he has beaten the odds before. Those who know him believe he will again.

"I don't just think Markus is going to play in the NFL, I think he's going to have a career in the NFL," Willis said. "This is someone who really wants it. I think the Giants are the type of team that will take a chance on him. But if they don't, someone else will."

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