It doesn't matter what part of the world it is, Jacksonville Jaguars offensive tackle Samuel Gutekunst is ready to get the season going like the rest of his teammates. The German-born offensive lineman was signed by the Jaguars to a first-year free agent contract as part of the NFL International Development Practice Squad Program on July 9. He spent the 2006 season in the same program with the Baltimore Ravens. Gutekunst, 23, completed his third season in NFL Europa with the Berlin Thunder after spending the first two seasons with the Frankfurt Galaxy. The 6-6, 317-pounder from Karlsruhe, Germany, started seven games at right tackle after missing three games in this spring with an ankle injury. Before Gutekunst arrives in Florida for training camp, I had the privilege of communicating with him on the World Wide Web about where he got his start in football, his time in NFL Europa, off-field interests and the upcoming season.
Brian: How did you pick up the game of football while growing up in Germany?
Samuel: I never knew anything about football until I found an article in a newspaper. A couple of guys were looking for people to play football and at that time I was searching for a team sport so I tried it and from the first time I entered the field I loved it.
Brian: What is the biggest difference in playing overseas than in the states?
Samuel: I think the biggest differences are speed and experience. Everything is much faster in NFL football, but that comes with experience and years of hard work. American players grow up with the game and know a lot more about it until the age where Europeans start to get interested in it.
Brian: How are the fans in Germany? What are the similarities and differences between the German fan base and the American fan base?
Samuel: German fans aren´t very different because they put their heart in it just like Americans. The only difference is cheering. They (Germans) scream for their team the whole game. The fan support is great. You can´t understand the guy right next to you, that´s how loud it is.
Brian: Have you ever been to Jacksonville? If not, what are you looking forward to doing besides playing football?
Samuel: I have been to Florida but never to Jacksonville. I don´t really know much about it, but it´s supposed to be hot and humid, that is all I know. Somebody told me the beaches are beautiful and I should learn how to surf. Maybe that´s what I will do, who knows.
Brian: You were a part of the Frankfurt Galaxy's successful rushing attack in 2006…Are you looking forward to working with the Jaguars rushing game that finished third in the NFL last season?
Samuel: Of course, I am very excited to learn from all these great players. It is very special for me to become a part of something great and to improve and develop my technique.
Brian: You were a member of the International Practice Squad program with the Baltimore Ravens last season and now the Jaguars this year…What is that program and how were you selected for that it?
Samuel: It is a program to bring young foreign players into the league to develop and improve. The league provides a separate roster spot for a national player for a whole year to spend the season with a team. During that time the national can´t be activated but has the same tasks like every practice squad player. Most of us didn´t go to college because there is no college ball in our home countries and that is why we play NFLE (NFL Europa).Last year was my first of two years. I started at right tackle for Berlin Thunder this year and got scouted during the season just like last year when I played for the World Bowl-winning Frankfurt Galaxy. Apparently, somebody thought I played good enough to be selected.
Brian: Speaking of Baltimore, you are now teamed up again with former Raven and new Jaguars player Tony Pashos. How does it feel sharing the same O-line with him again? Did you guys learn anything from each other while in Baltimore last season?
Samuel: It feels great. He´s such a nice guy and I already learned so much from him. He showed me around in Baltimore and we spent lots of time together last year. Tony is Greek, which makes me feel like I´m not the only European. He pushed me a lot in the past. I admire his work ethics and the way he´s a professional football player.
Brian: You were a part of the international mini-camp with NFL Europa in Tampa…Explain how the camp works?
Samuel: In principle, it's just like a NFL camp. There are two-a-days, meetings, a lot of work, but their two-a-days are a little bit different. The first practice is followed by a 30-45-minute break. After the break there is the second practice. That means there are two practices in the morning and only meetings in the afternoon. Before regular camp with the teams, there is a national camp. About 80 players from Europe, Mexico and Japan practice for one week to be selected for one of the 48 national spots in NFLE (NFL Europe). After national camp those 48 players get split in groups of eight players per NFLE-team and they spend the season with the team.
Brian: Name one of your favorite moments while playing in NFL Europa.
Samuel: My favorite moment was the '06 World Bowl in Dusseldorf, Germany. We had a great victory over Amsterdam after we lost two games to them during the regular season. At that point, I knew I am a winner.
Brian: What are your goals for the 2007 season?
Samuel: To improve and get better because if you stop improving you will get worse. Of course, to have a very successful season with the Jaguars.
Brian: What have you been doing to keep yourself occupied prior to reporting for training camp?
Samuel: There wasn´t much time between the end of NFLE and training camp. I tried to recover from the season and the injuries. At the same time, I worked out to get back in shape for training camp. It's hard to find a way between rehabbing and preparing, but I think I got it done.
Brian: Are there any Jaguars players that you are looking forward to working with?
Samuel: I´m looking forward to working with the O-line as a group and to learn from every one of them.
Brian: I noticed you want to get into coaching after you are through playing…How did you come about the interest in coaching?
Samuel: I think football is the greatest sport on Earth. In my country, it's not very popular but there are kids that are really hot for the game. But at the same time there aren´t many coaches to teach it right. I just want to give back what football has given to me, helping German football to get better and grow.
Brian: If you couldn't play football, what other sport would you take up?
Samuel: I don´t really know because football was my first sport ever besides working out at the gym. Maybe Rugby or Australian football.
Brian: You have an interest in cars…What are your favorites?
Samuel: As a German, the BMW´s and Mercedes' are a must, but I like American cars too. Just like the Hummer. The H1 is my favorite.
Brian: If you could sit down and speak with any former football legends (alive or dead)…Who would it be and why?
Samuel: Warren Moon because he did a lot for our sport and nine Pro Bowl selections speaks for itself.