To kick things off, I want to share some of AJ’s core beliefs with you. They really shape this story and we will keep coming back to them.
Through many conversations we had, there was this recurring theme, no matter what we talked about. „Only“ playing Divsion II College Football, going to „just“ Germany or re-signing without really considering other teams offers. It was always there, and it always has been – Being grateful for the opportunities you have and making the most of them.
AJ didn’t have the easiest time through his youth and he didn’t always make the smartest decisions. But hell, who has!? Speaking about his past he rarely sounds unhappy or negative but rather thankful and joyous. During his senior year at Harlem Highschool, AJ lived with his father, Stan – divorced from his mother, Sheila – and the both of them living separately. Money wasn’t plentiful and the interest in school and grades could’ve been higher. The focus was more on living life and playing football.
Football played a big part in his high school days and he told me „[…] it just became more of a lifestyle for me.[…]“
Making the top colleges isn’t just about being an outstanding athlete though, you got to have the grades too to be awarded scholarships.
When the offer came to play at McKendree University a Division II school, things changed – and from what I understand – it was the first time Adrian realized, he had to be grateful for his chances. Through teenager High school struggles and not paying school the attention it should’ve gotten, he still came out on the good site. It might not have been Division I, but it very well was a chance to keep playing football and keep getting better at the thing he loved most.
Lets take a step back right here and look at it with a little more distance – it would’ve been perfectly understandable to be unhappy at this point – posting 116 tackles in his senior year at high school and earning all-conference honors should’ve opened more doors, right?!
„But what would be achievable, if we were just thankful for the opportunities we have?“
It seems these days nothing is ever good enough. There’s a new iPhone every 8-9 months, roughly 50% of marriages are being divorced, we’re always looking for something better. Everyone’s trying to climb the corporate ladder. Earning more money at a better position is considered THE way to go.
So what, if we just stopped for once? Being content with where we are, staying positive in what we do and erasing all negativity that comes with the greed and impatience of not being where we think we should be…or society thinks we should be.
AJ went to play at McKendree Universtiy in 2013 and only a year later in 2014 as a sophomore broke the school record in tackling with 132 tackles on the season, ranking 10th overall in tackles per game across the whole NCAA Divison II (12.1). He also collected Academic All-GLVC honors for the second straight season, meaning everything was going fine in the class room as well.
Breaking his own record in 2015 (135) just to do it all over again for his senior year in 2016 (145). After the 2016 campaign Adrian became McKendree‘s leading career tackler at the impressive number of 421, holding three McKendree records and receiving NCAA Divison II All-American honors. Thanks to these numbers, AJ was eventually invited to take part in Northwestern‘s Pro Day in march 2017 and the Chicago Bears rookie camp in early may 2017.
The Bears decided to pass on AJ and the dream of making the NFL came to an abrupt end right there – a pivotal moment in AJ‘s career – but more so in his personal life.
From the highs of talking at the graduation ceremony, being named all American and going to the Chicago Bears rookie camp it went south pretty fast. The NFL didn’t play out, CFL teams didn’t pick him up and a 2 year relationship found a sudden end. Eventually the time came to refocus and set out on a different path – the time to recollect, define new goals, find reasons to keep pushing forward without football and for the first time ever – establish a connection with himself.
„It was really a rollercoaster of emotions that year, I was at the top of the world for a little bit right there, being invited to an NFL camp, speaking at my graduation ceremony and then all that didn’t work out obviously.“
As AJ was facing the first summer of his life not playing football, he decided to move into the St. Louis Area and rented a house with one of his friends. Like any adult does, he needed a Job to cover his living expenses and got into construction, working 5 days a week from 6am to 3pm.
The job paid good money but something was missing – for the first time in his life since the young age of 7 Adrian wasn’t playing a sport and thus not competing at anything. The need to fill that void eventually drove him back into the gym.
Before the summer of 2017 lifting weights was just the tool to get ready for football, now it was a new way of competing – competing against himself – getting stronger, leaner and surprisingly in the best shape of his life. There was no reason to go lightly, because there were no games on the weekends, no need to be well rested. Working out took over the passion football had left behind.
„Because of my working hours I had the freedom to go to the gym daily and spend a lot of time with friends and family and partying every other weekend, it was really the time I first found my own identity outside of football“
Looking at AJ and the way he speaks about this summer is very interesting. You would think it might‘ve been one of the hardest things in his life to step away from football, and it certainly wasn’t easy to begin with. But it turned out to be one of the greatest – maybe the greatest summer – he ever had in his life. It’s a prime example on how important it is to establish this connection with your inner self. Finding out who you are as a person and learning what drives you is so important in personal development
Summers cant last forever and as the GFL (German Football League) concluded its 2017 season, the recruiting cycle kicked off and teams started to reach out to AJ, who ultimately decided to play for the Dresden Monarchs.
Summarizing his own journey from not making the NFL to pursuing a second career overseas in Europe AJ told the 23 News Channel in an interview.
„You know in life you can‘t get down, you just have to keep moving forward“
When AJ arrived in Germany it was almost the same situation as when he first got into college. He could’ve been unhappy about not playing in the NFL or CFL – Let’s face it, It‘s no secret that you wont get rich playing American football in Europe – On the contrary though he took his chance and told himself that he’s going to embrace it, be grateful and give it all he has. Fitting to this mindset, AJ posted something on instagram in the very beginning that stood out to me.
„Waking up in Germany and knowing im here to play football is like awakening from a dream every single day all over again.“
All that positivity, all that energy is what made him the leading tackler in the GFL, it is what made him an All-Pro GFL selection – but most importantly – it is what made him the person I got to know. The person I‘m introducing to you through this article.
Happily ever after?!
As we all know, AJ came back to Germany and the Dresden Monarchs without any hesitation or second guessing. Right now playing his second season and really settling in with the german life. He has plans to take a german language class and is looking at different options with our manager Jörg Dreßler. A stable relationship with girlfriend Louise Götze is providing another aspect of life other than just plain football day in and day out. AJ is happy and enjoys Life – only time can tell whats next…
Your Questions Answered
1. How man years do you think you‘re staying with the Monarchs?
Well I love Dresden and the fan base, as well as my teammates and coaches. I don’t think I could see myself playing for anyone else in Germany.
2. What is your favorite thing about Dresden
The beautiful sites of the historic downtown. The river, the Saxonian Swiss and Neustadt.
3.3. Could you generally see yourself living in Germany?
Yes definitely. I love the lifestyle in Germany. I just need to continue learning the language and find work.
4. Can you imagine staying in Germany with Louise?
Yes, for sure. We talk about it all of the time. SHe loves to travel, and so do I. I also also really like how open minded she is to possibly live in the US or wherever life takes us.
5. Are there things in the US you‘d like to have in Germany, and vice versa?
Some of the things I miss while I‘m in Germany would be more Mexican food. And things I wish America had, were better public transportation and a more active lifestyle for the general population of walking and riding a bike on the daily basis.
Whats next for you after Football?
Probably coaching Football or coaching strength and conditioning, and starting a family.
The photo credit and rights to the featured picture as well as this last one belong to Ben Gierig Photography
Medical Student, Semiprofessional American Football Player and Surfer. Trying to bring valuable lessons to you in writing inspiring stories about people who touched my personal journey through life.
If you can take away one single thing from every story, I reached my goal.