Senior staff writer
Former Beech Grove High School wide receiver Kirby Crook is in Germany for the football adventure of his life.
He arrived overseas early last week for five months of pro football as one of four U.S. players on the Franken Knights of the German Football League.
“I don’t speak German, and I’ve never been out of the U.S., other than Canada,” Crook said when he recently stopped by to visit with his former high school teachers. “It is very Americanized over there, and most players speak at least some broken English.”
Crook, son of Wendell and Marilee Crook, is joined on the team by Franklin College graduates and football standouts Jonny West, Colin Gallagher and Kyle Linville, who is recovering from a leg injury and will be the Knights’ offensive coordinator.
Crook was a defensive back at Hope (Mich.) College, where he led the Flying Dutchmen and the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Conference with seven interceptions. The defensive unit was No. 2 among NCAA Division III teams for the most interceptions.
The Knights will use Crook at defensive back or safety and possibly as a wide receiver. He explained that German pro teams are limited to four U.S. players and can only have two U.S. players on the field at a time.
“Most of the players are similar to the types of players I’ve played against,” said Crook who explained there are very few players from D-I colleges.
The GFL has been in existence for 20 years in Europe, where American-style football continues to grow. The league uses NCAA rules, according to Crook.
“There are so many similarities to American football,” he said. “Each team continues to build an avid fan base, and rivalries continue to grow.”
The Knights recruited Crook, who had an Arena Football League tryout in November with the Cleveland Gladiators, in late February. They picked him after seeing his combined statistics. He has a guaranteed roster spot.
The Knights signed him to a one-year contract and are paying for his round-trip travel expenses from Indianapolis to Hamburg, providing him with housing, two meals per day and a monthly stipend.
Crook was All-MIAA first team, D-III All-Region and one of 25 players selected as a Capital One Academic All-American. He earned a 3.97 grade point average and graduated May 2 with a degree in management. He was the Division III recipient of the Morley Fraser Award for academic achievement, football ability and leadership.
He said Hope College and its 3,200 students were a good fit. There were 780 in his graduating class.
“I liked the culture of the football team,” Crook said. “They had a ‘little brother-big brother’ program where incoming freshmen hang with a big brother. It helped me fit in with the whole team and of course, I became a big brother.”
He also praised his teachers and former Beech Grove football coaches, Dave Coudret and Doug Armstrong. “They prepared me for the competition and the education at the next level. Academically, the higher level classes prepared me for the next level. I was prepared for the workload in college that required a lot of written work. I was more prepared with writing skills from the outset.”
There is a possibility of returning overseas in 2016, but Crook’s goal is to earn his MBA in the fall of 2016.