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Alex Linnenkohl: At a Crossroads

Alex Linnenkohl:  At a Crossroads

(Courtesy of Alex Crawford, The Daily Barometer).

Alex Linnenkohl catches a little out pass from his quarterback and begins sprinting down the sideline. Two defenders who are half his size make a last-ditch effort to knock down the former Oregon State center, but he dives for the endzone.  Touchdown.

In his efforts to tie the game for his team, he takes a massive chunk of skin out of his hand and bends his pinky finger completely backwards. It could have been a lot worse, though.

The pylon Linnenkohl was diving for was actually a telephone pole, and the sideline was the raised curb separating the sidewalk from asphalt. The game he was playing is a game he has played since the age of 10. This particular edition, however, was being played in the street in front of a buddy’s house following the Beavers’ 42-24 statement win over BYU on Saturday.

Normally, you don’t see professional football players out in the street celebrating their alma mater’s win by throwing the pigskin around and getting rowdy, but Linnenkohl is at a unique spot in his life. A spot everyone — football player or not — can relate to.

Alex Linnenkohl is at a crossroads. He’s on a sabbatical of sorts, contemplating his next move. He’s reached a point in his athletic career that all football players must eventually face and, in one way or another, we will all face.

He has to decide what to do with his life.

Linnenkohl’s career as a member of the OSU football team ended in 2010. He started 26 consecutive games at center and earned Pac-10 Conference Honorable Mention three years in a row.

He joined the Iowa Barnstormers of the Arena Football League in February for the AFL’s spring season, where he was the only player on the team to play every snap.

Now, Linnenkohl has to decide if he wants to give up playing the sport that has defined his life.

“What have I been doing for the last 14 years? [Football] is all I’ve ever been trained to do. I guess I’ve always known I couldn’t play football forever, but it’s been my identity for a long time,” Linnenkohl said, contemplating the question deeply even as he answered. “To have to decide whether to change that or not, it’s a big deal. It’s a big part of my life.”
While Linnenkohl loved his time in Des Moines, Iowa, and his first season in the Arena League, he still has higher aspirations.

Linnenkohl got a taste of the NFL lifestyle during his stint at training camp with the Chicago Bears prior to last season. While they both may be professional football leagues, the Arena Football League is a world apart from the NFL.

“In the NFL, there are millionaires,” Linnenkohl said. “And if we went out to eat and there are millionaires with us, the shots are Patron. Everything is the highest level. If it was steak, it was filet mignon; if it was seafood, it was lobster. Especially hanging out with the O-linemen, there weren’t a lot of spared expenses as far as getting the best things.”
Compare that to Arena, where the players were provided with daily coupons for free meals at various restaurants throughout Des Moines and would meet up to try to figure out how to get the best deals.

“You’ve got these little things in your wallet, and you’re trading with guys and trying to figure out where to go eat, and that kind of played to my interest,” Linnenkohl said with a chuckle. “As we all know, I like checking out specials and seeing the deals around town. I kind of became the go-to guy, once again, for where we were going to go eat and the coupons that we needed to get.”

It is a league of millionaires, lavish spending and top-shelf liquor, compared to a league of coupon-cutting buddies trying to decide between Johnny’s Sports Bar and Texas Roadhouse for dinner.

“I pretty much went straight from [the NFL lifestyle] and went to Arena where it really is kind of a grimy, low-pay job,” Linnenkohl said. “Almost all the dudes are pretty broke, so nobody’s buying expensive meals for anybody, and the team travel arrangements they try to do as cheap as they possibly can. Instead of flying a private jet, we are flying economy class just with normal people.”

Still, Linnenkohl has not ruled out the possibility of continuing to play in the Arena League.

“The con factor is that because it’s such a big difference from NFL money,” Linnenkohl said. “It’s definitely way less worth putting your head through the same amount of trauma, putting your body through the same amount of trauma for a check that’s probably one-fiftieth of an NFL check.”

Injuries and long-term bodily harm — especially brain damage — have become a huge matter of concern in the football world over the last few years. From players committing suicide, to guys like James Harrison saying they have had double-digit concussions, some wonder how long the sport of football, as we know it, will be around.

Being able to do what you love, and make good money doing it, will continue to trump the concerns of the general public and the worrisome warnings of medical doctors.

“If I had been with an NFL team this whole last season and had a contract in front of me, I’d play ‘til I was 50 if I could for $500,000 a year. But for some cheeseburgers and some milk money, I don’t really want to put my head out there like that,” Linnenkohl said, expressing the same sentiment that keeps players motivated to play an incredibly dangerous sport.

Linnenkohl does not know what he wants to do, though. He is in a position many people will find themselves in someday.

Arena football was a fun time for Linnenkohl, a vacation of sorts from what society would consider to be “the real world.” But, unless he truly thinks it can eventually translate into a career in the NFL, he is not sure its worth the continued effort and abuse to his body.

“I really could keep my identity as a football player and press that lifestyle and keep doing it, but I don’t want to be in my mid-40s in a wheelchair,” Linnenkohl said. “I love the game, and it’s been great to me. It’s gotten me education, I’ve met the best people, played with the best guys [and] met some of my greatest friends through the game. I expect it to keep loving me back like it has. I expect [it] to keep working out for me, whether I’m playing or coaching. I just don’t know today what I’m going to do.”

The great thing for Linnenkohl, and for all of us, is that no one really knows what they are going to do with their lives when they are in their early-to mid-20s.

Life is confusing, but rest assured, Linnenkohl will continue doing what he loves, in one way or another.

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