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Storrs - Andreas Knappe began playing American football in Denmark just a few years ago when he literally outgrew team handball - the Olympic sport that looks like a cross between basketball and soccer.
"Basically, I was getting a little too physical for the game, not playing dirty or anything like that," said Knappe, who this week became a 6-foot-9, 300 pound lineman for Connecticut. "The people at my age, they were not that big, so it looked more violent than it was."
Knappe, who had been watching the NFL on television, heard there was a local club team in his home town of Silkeborg, Denmark. He decided to give the sport a try.
"I went, I had one practice and I was hooked," he said. "Since then, I've just been loving playing football."
Knappe, now 21, attended some camps in the U.S. last summer after graduating from high school, and that led to interest from schools such as Connecticut. The Dane said UConn impressed him with its facilities and coaches. Coach Paul Pasqualoni said Knappe impressed them with his size and maturity.
"First of all, he passed the look test," Pasqualoni said Friday, during the team's annual media day. "Then, about a minute into the conversation, you realize you're talking to a 21-year-old man. You're not dealing with some wide-eyed 17-year-old high school kid who is trying to make a decision about what school he's going to go to."
Knappe finished his European season in mid-July and arrived in Connecticut this week, after 30 hours of travelling.
He has had just three practices with the team, which opens its season against UMass on Aug. 30, and will join the team in full pads next week.
But Pasqualoni said there are no plans to redshirt Knappe. He hopes the Dane can add some depth to an interior defensive line that lost starters Kendall Reyes and Twyon Martin to graduation.
He also noted that Knappe's size could make him an ideal candidate to eventually switch to offense and become a left tackle.
"We'll wait and see what kind of progress he makes," Pasqualoni said. "Because he's 21 years old, and a physically mature kid, if he's not ready to play in the first game, my plan is to keep the development part of this going to see if maybe in another week he'll be ready, or in another week he'll be ready."
Knappe said he's anxious to see how he handles the speed of the game in the U.S. and matches up with guys who have been playing football all their lives. His dream is to follow Morton Anderson and become the second Dane ever in the NFL.
For now, though, he's just happy to have access to the facilities and coaches at UConn, not to mention free shoulder pads and cleats.
"You've got to understand, where I come from you have to pay for everything," he said. "Turf is non-existent; the grass fields are really bumpy. It's a whole other world here."