NFL Draft 2017: Andreas Knappe reaches another crossroads in football odyssey

Andreas Knappe started playing football at 18 — in Denmark. After excelling at Connecticut, the offensive lineman has a chance to play stateside long term.

There are plenty of Razorbacks currently in the NFL.

None, though, are from Denmark.

Such is the goal of Andreas Knappe. His gridiron journey didn’t go through Arkansas but the University of Connecticut via Knappe’s hometown of Silkeborg, Denmark, and the amateur team for which he played — the Triangle Razorbacks of the Danish American Football Federation.

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Yes, there is a league for those Danes who have a pigskin passion like the one Knappe possesses.

“When you play in Denmark, you’re playing in a pay-to-play league,” Knappe told co-host Zig Fracassi and me last weekend on SiriusXM NFL Radio. “It’s not something anyone forces over your head. You play if you love the game.

“The love for the sport is equal but the level of play, the speed and the size of people here, is very, very different. People there have regular jobs. This is more of a sport that you play in your spare time in Denmark, whereas here it’s full time for most people in college and the NFL, obviously.”

Standing slightly over 6-8 and weighing 320 pounds, Knappe believes he has potential for a prosperous NFL career after starting two-plus seasons at right tackle for UConn. He probably will have to prove himself as a late-round pick or college free agent following next week’s draft.

“He’s got an interesting story,” one NFL personnel director told Sporting News. “But he’s really raw and 25 years old.”

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Even so, it may be a mistake to sell Knappe short considering what he overame to even make it this far.

That goal seems easy compared to what it took for Knappe to make it this far.

Knappe’s first athletic pursuits were in archery — he was a member of the Danish national team program — and handball. After spending a year away from both sports, an 18-year-old Knappe was approached about getting involved in a different endeavor he was familiar with only from watching television.

“My best friend tells me, ‘Hey, I just started playing American football. You should come. It’s awesome,’” Knappe said. “I gave it a try because I needed to play another sport again.”

Knappe’s first practice came in knee-high snow during the middle of winter. The conditions didn’t temper his enthusiasm.

“As soon as I got the pads on, I was hooked immediately,” he said.

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Knappe didn’t take long to show he could dominate the opposition in "fodbold"(Danish for "football")as the Razorbacks won the 2011 league championship game. Some of his American teammates urged him to head stateside and seek tougher competition. With their input, Knappe assembled a video that was picked up by a recruiting service.

The effort still wasn’t enough to land a scholarship.

“I ended up paying my way to come over here on official visits because schools weren’t really willing to fly you 5,000 miles or whatever,” Knappe said. “There were a million phone calls where I’m trying to call and it doesn’t go through or they can’t call me back because I’m in a different country. There were peaks and valleys through that year.”

The peak came when Knappe was offered a scholarship after traveling to UConn to meet with then-Huskies head coach Paul Pasqualoni and assistant Hank Hughes.

“They could see I wasn’t lying about my size and that I had something between my ears,” said Knappe, who would become a four-time member of the American Athletic Conference's All-Academic team. “I could speak English fluently and understood what they were telling me.”

Despite his size, Knappe didn’t make an immediate impact at UConn playing on the defensive line. At the same time, Pasqualoni was struggling to build a winner. He was fired four games into the 2013 season when Knappe was a redshirt freshman.

Following the change, Knappe said Pasqualoni told him he should switch to the offensive line “because you’ve got the build and tool set for it.” Hughes, who was Knappe’s defensive line coach, shared the same opinion.

“He said, ‘We were going to do (the switch) anyway,’” Knappe said with a laugh.

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The move turned out for the best. Knappe started the final 32 games of his college career at right tackle after getting comfortable at the position midway through the 2014 season.

“Once I got switched over and started understanding offensive schemes a little better and became a starter, I could tell every game I was getting better and better,” Knappe said.

The cerebral aspect of playing on the offensive line especially appealed to him.

“I understand run schemes very well, but it’s fun when you look at a defense and they might be hiding a blitz and you’ve looked at their tendencies trying to solve the puzzle,” Knappe said.

To try to improve, Knappe said he has watched extensive video of two NFL tackles who possess comparable size: the Patriots' Nate Solder and free agent Jake Long.

“You can learn a couple of things about yourself and how you move around in space from looking at a guy of similar build,” Knappe said.

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The 25-year-old Knappe must now sell an NFL team on his upside. He admits to being a better pass blocker at this point. His private workouts also were limited by a hamstring injury he suffered during his predraft training.

One thing teams won’t have to worry about is Knappe’s commitment to becoming the first NFL player from Denmark since Pro Football Hall of Fame kicker Morten Andersen.

“They’d be getting a guy that loves football, loves the grind of football,” Knappe said. “Every time I get to talk about football, I’m happy. I’m smiling. I’m a guy who can handle a lot of adversity, honestly, and a guy who’s easy to be around and talk to. I’m not shy or scared to step up to whatever.”

Knappe’s football odyssey backs his words.

Alex Marvez can be heard from 7-10 p.m. ET Wednesday on SiriusXM NFL Radio.

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