Big Dane On Campus

STORRS - Connecticut's Great Dane has arrived and is ready to play some football.

Of course, it remains to be seen how great a player Andreas Knappe can become for the UConn Huskies. But at 6-foot-9 and 285 pounds it is safe to say he is Great - in terms of size.

Knappe, UConn's newest defensive lineman from Silkeborg, Denmark, arrived in Connecticut late Tuesday night after a 14-hour flight turned into a 30-hour trip because of a missed connection and waiting in airports.

"No sleep," he said.

Knappe, 21, has filled out all his papers, including compliance paperwork and medical forms, and watched three practices – including Thursday's scrimmage. Friday, Knappe was the star attraction of UConn's annual media day as reporters heard his story for the first time. And he's still pinching himself a bit over the fact he really is on the roster of an American college football team.

"I didn't know what the process was; I was just excited," Knappe said when asked about first being approached by recruiters. "I was like, wow, people in America want little me?"

That prompted a brief moment of silence as everyone waited to see who would be the first to laugh. There's absolutely nothing "little" about Knappe.

"My strengths?" he responded to a question. "My size. And I'm quick. I've got long arms. My arms are really long. I have big hands."

Indeed he does. If first impressions are worth anything, Knappe appears to a physical specimen, athletic and – because of that size – someone who should help the Huskies in some capacity. Coach Paul Pasqualoni said Friday the newcomer is already picking up terminology from the playbook and is very receptive to instruction. As soon as the coaches can see him working in pads they will get a feel for where he fits in the UConn scheme.

Hank Hughes, UConn's defensive line coach and assistant head coach, received a tip about Knappe from a member of a coaching staff in Denmark.

"They felt like Andreas was a candidate to be a Division I football player," Pasqualoni said Friday. "So, they called Hank and gave Hank the information. Hank worked on it for quite a long time. It was months figuring out the academic piece. But fortunately this guy took the right courses. Admissions felt like he was a good candidate to be a foreign student.

"We liked him because he's a mature guy – not a kid, a guy. A true young man who really has passion to learn this game. . . He really has a thirst for knowledge of the game."

During a visit to Pasqualoni's camp this summer, Knappe decided to commit. When he was set with his travel visa, he finally was on his way to Connecticut. Even though he is 21, he has four seasons of eligibility with the Huskies.

"It's a major adjustment for me," Knappe said. "The climate is just a little bit warmer than back home and the humidity is way higher. We have absolutely no humidity back home. And the six-hour time difference is really tough to get used to. I've only been here for 2 ½ days so I'm still a little big jet lagged.

"I feel comfortable about getting into camp and working with the people I'm going to be with for a long time. All the people are so nice, helping me with everything."

If things had been a little different in Knappe's life, Americans might have been sitting on the sofa watching him play team handball in the 2012 London Olympics. That was the sport he played until three years ago, but he basically outgrew it.

"I was starting lifting a little bit," Knappe said. "Basically, I was getting a little bit too physical for the game. Not playing dirty or anything like that, I was just getting physical. And, well, the people my age at that point were not that big so it looked more violent than it was."

After he was encouraged to try out for his town football team, he has spent the past two years playing the new sport. His team began its season in mid-April and he participated in seven games in the Danish League, in addition to European Cup competition. Even though his season just ended July 14, he said he is in good shape and not injured in any way.

He has no idea what his role might be with the Huskies.

"I have more experience on the defensive line," he said. "I really hope I'll be able to participate in some of the first games and help out a little bit. I don't think I'll be playing a whole lot. I have a new system to learn. But I hope I'll be playing a little bit the first couple of games and then more and more."

Over the past five or six years, Knappe said he watched NFL games and some college games too. He said he knew about UConn, Syracuse, USF and "all the popular schools too.

Mark R. Shenkman Training Center

"I decided [on UConn] when I was here for my official visit," he said. "I got to meet all the people that I've been talking to on the phone, talking to over e-mail.

"And I got to see all the facilities. When I saw the facilities here, man I was sold. I was a little child opening up a birthday present or something like that. I was really, really amazed. You've got to understand, where I come from, we paid for everything. Turf is not existing. The grass fields are really bumpy. You have to buy cleats, helmets, shoulder pads. It's a whole other world for me here.

"We have a few coaches but not that many. Having a position coach for me is new. Having two position coaches is really wild for me. Having a strength and conditioning coach is not something I've been used to either. It's a whole new experience. I'm really excited about it."

Knappe admits football isn't big in his homeland, so he has the chance to do something special.

"A lot of people don't have the guts to play football back home," he said. "And a lot of the people playing football don't have either the talent or the work ethic to become good or get over here.

"I'm the second Dane ever to get a full scholarship at a Division I school. It's a pretty big deal back home for a lot of people."

The other?

Former kicker Morten Andersen.

"He's also the only one who's made it to the NFL," Knappe said, sounding like a guy would like to change that. "All the people who know me back home, they'll be excited [to see him play]. UConn's got a lot of new fans, I can guarantee you that."

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