Kragthorpe: Utah's Kruger brothers hoping to stick together in NFL
Orem • Approaching the next tee of a crowded course on a Saturday in April, the golfers recognized three football players and were puzzled.
The NFL draft was being conducted that afternoon, so what were the Kruger brothers doing here?
As that agonizing day dragged on, Paul Kruger had pulled his father and brothers away from the television and taken them to The Ranches Golf Course in Eagle Mountain. That's where Joe and David Kruger finally received the news that triggered intermittent celebrations with hugs and high-fives in the fairways.
Two months later, the three brothers are preparing for training camps. One of them is a Super Bowl champion who signed with the Cleveland Browns as one of pro football's most prized free agents. The others are hoping to land jobs in Cleveland and Philadelphia and help carve out the Krugers' place in NFL lore.
Since the league's founding in 1920, only nine groups of three or more brothers have played at the same time including Logan natives Merlin, Phil and Orrin Olsen in 1976. The Krugers' further distinction is having their brother-in-law, Tony Bergstrom, as an Oakland offensive lineman.
The family's position is potentially historic, but not unexpected by the oldest sibling. Paul C. Kruger's brothers followed him to the University of Utah as defensive linemen, and now they're coming to the NFL. "I hate to say this," he said, not wanting to come across boastfully, "but it feels pretty natural."
Natural, and nurtured. Raised in Orem in a tightly bonded family of four sons and two daughters, the Krugers have been coached by a father who taught them proper techniques and supported by a mother who's credited with building their confidence and instilling toughness, especially.
Wanting advice about developing pro athletes, everybody asks Paul L. Kruger, the father, how this happened. Genetics, obviously, are a starting point. The union of a 6-foot-3 defensive lineman and a 5-foot-10 track-and-field performer who started their family while attending the former Ricks College in Idaho was bound to produce tall, athletic, competitive children.
"We knew we would have big kids," Paul L. Kruger said. But football players? No. By the end of his career at Oregon State, Kruger was so physically worn down that he was determined to steer his boys into other sports.
Jennifer Kruger endorsed that plan, right until the day when her husband returned from a business trip and she greeted him with two news items: Your seventh-grade son's playing football, and you're coaching him.
So began "absolutely the greatest thing I've ever done," he said, citing the opportunity to spend time with his sons, regardless of where football would take them.
The Super Bowl sure was fun for the whole family, though. Originally signed as a quarterback from Timpanogos High School, Paul C. Kruger moved to defensive end and became an anchor of Utah's 2008 Sugar Bowl team. He entered the NFL Draft after his sophomore season (he was eligible, having redshirted) and developed into a pass-rushing star in Baltimore. His two sacks helped the Ravens beat San Francisco in the Super Bowl.
Having awarded him a five-year, $40 million contract, the Browns want Kruger to become an every-down linebacker and a strong presence. "I feel like I can do some really special things, being a team leader," he said. "I want to take that knowledge and experience and go see what I can do with it."
Leadership comes naturally to Kruger, who last week staged a free seminar in conjunction with his charitable foundation, attracting youth from more than 100 schools throughout Utah. The event, featuring four of his former Baltimore teammates, was intended as "a bigger way to influence kids beyond football," Kruger said.
His brothers thrived at Utah by following Paul's example, although doing so in the NFL will be more challenging. After five years with the Utes, David was undrafted. Yet several teams wanted him as a free agent and he joined the Browns, figuring they needed help beyond having signed his brother. He's a long way from making the team, but the chance to play with Paul in the NFL drives David. "I've been thinking about that a lot lately," he said. "It would be an incredible experience."
Among the brothers, David is known for his thorough preparation. His devotion to weightlifting inspired Paul, who was inclined to rely on natural talent, and his disciplined approach made him a dependable college player.
If David is tightly wound, Joe is the opposite, his parents say, with an easygoing demeanor. Mostly for logistical reasons, Joe grew up playing on the same teams as David, who's two years older.
Now, having turned 21 this month, Joe's the youngest player in the NFL. He's confident about making Philadelphia's roster as a seventh-round draft choice, while acknowledging some risk in leaving Utah after his junior season and becoming "one of those guys that's trying to take someone else's spot."
He'll succeed by listening to his brother's instructions. In his keynote speech during the leadership event, Paul Kruger said, "Whatever you want to do in life is right there for the taking."
Meet the Krugers
The six children of Paul L. and Jennifer Kruger:
Paul C. • 27, outside linebacker, Cleveland Browns, signed as free agent after four seasons in Baltimore.
Jessica • 25, married to Oakland Raiders offensive guard Tony Bergstrom after being introduced by Paul, Bergstrom's former University of Utah teammate.
David • 23, defensive tackle, Cleveland Browns, signed as undrafted free agent after five years at Utah.
Joe • 21, defensive end, Philadelphia Eagles, drafted in seventh round following junior season at Utah.
Mark • 18, graduate of Pleasant Grove High School, all-region defensive lineman; accepted mission call to Australia, hoping for college football opportunity.
Erica • 16, Pleasant Grove senior, student body officer.
According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, 26 groups of three or more brothers have played in the NFL. That includes nine sets of brothers who were on active rosters at the same time most recently, the Gronkowskis (Chris, Dan and Rob). In 2013, Paul, David and Joe Kruger are hoping to join that list. So are the Geathers brothers Robert (Cincinnati), Clifton (Philadelphia) and Kwame (San Diego) and the Trufant brothers Marcus (Jacksonville), Desmond (Atlanta) and Isaiah (New York Jets).
In 2012, Jennifer Kruger attended all eight Baltimore Ravens home games and all six University of Utah home games. Remarkably, the 2013 schedule would enable her to attend every home game of the Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles. She would have to miss a Browns game to watch the Eagles play her son-in-law's team in Oakland on Nov. 3.
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