Long shot football career a snap for long-snapper Trever Kruzel

He’s walked hundreds of miles in Crash Davis’ cleats, to the sun and back. For 72 hours, he was an NFL long snapper. For the rest of the spring, he was Trever Kruzel, car salesman, an Icarus in wingtips.

“It was cool,” Kruzel recalled of his first day back to work at Fox Motors after a three-day May 2015 trial with the Detroit Lions. “I wished I wasn’t back. Everybody wished I wasn’t back. But it was really pretty fun. It wasn’t a very productive morning, let’s put it like that.”

They circled in packs small and large. What was it like? How big is Ezekiel Ansah up close? Did you meet Megatron? And so it went, wave after wave, curious as to how it felt to drink from Roger Goodell’s fountain, even if only for a sip.

“Everybody wanted to know how it went and what happened,” Kruzel said. “So I told the same story, probably, 50 times that day. It was a blast getting to do that … it’s not every day that someone goes from the U.P. to Detroit for a trial with a professional football team.”

These days, the 24-year-old former Northern Michigan standout is a Major League Football draftee, and like pretty much every Major League Football draftee, he’s got a story to tell. Or six.

At this time last year, Kruzel was selling cars in Negaunee, Mich., in the U.P., or Upper Peninsula. Now he’s trying to jump-start his pro football career, training and lifting in his hometown of Boyne City, Mich., with older brother Tyler, another MLFB draftee.

By day, the eldest Kruzel — three years Trever’s senior — is an assistant principal in the Pellston (Mich.) school district. By night, he’s either pumping iron or whipping the ball through his legs. The DiMaggio boys hit; the Kruzel boys snap.

“Basically, (Tyler) did it in high school, and then I started doing it,” Trever explained. “I don’t know — that’s just what we did. As a kid, we had a nice, long living room.”

And some strong table lamps, apparently. For Randy and Karen Kruzel, the occasional piece of broken furniture was an occupational hazard of having two strong, strapping boys, each pushing — and sometimes needling — the other to new heights. Heights and damage.

“I know of one (lamp) for sure,” Trever recalled. “We never broke a window, so that’s pretty cool. At least not with a football. With a baseball, we got one.”

Tyler and Trever specialized in the same position, went to the same college, and even attended same MLFB tryout this past November. The whole package theme continued into January, when Team (Larry) Kirksey tapped both former Wildcats to join his roster during the league’s inaugural draft.

Which was cool. Sort of. See, when it comes to brothers, franchises can find a way to make room for two, if they’ve got the goods. When it comes to a pair of long snappers, though? Not so much.

“I have no clue what’s going to happen, whether they’ll sign one of us or trade one of us,” Trever said. “There’s one other team that I know of that doesn’t have a long snapper already … worst-case scenario, one of us will get sent home. I hope not. That’s not what we want. I’m just kind of hoping that we both end up on different teams and get the chance to play against each other. That would be ideal.”

Regardless, Trever is down with wherever his new bosses want to line him up. At Northern, the 6-1, 245-pound Kruzel was recruited as a fullback, moved to H-back and eventually transitioned to defensive end.

“I don’t know what they’d put me at (the next level) other than as a long snapper,” he said. “I’m the kind of body type that can do a little but of everything. I’m not super-long, super-tall. I’m thick and quick enough to do a little bit of other stuff.”

But the snapping stuff pays the bills. Kruzel’s consistency and release drew the Lions’ interest last spring; Detroit took a flyer on the local product — Boyne City is an inlet town some four hours northwest of Ford Field — after a senior season in 2014 that saw him record a team-best 5.5 sacks and eventually tapped as Northern’s defensive MVP.

“It went by really fast,” Kruzel said of his May Lions whirlwind. “But I feel like — and my fiancée can attest to this — I can remember everything from that camp.”

He remembers rooming with an offensive guard who had his nose constantly in the Lions’ playbook, morning, noon, night, meals and bathroom breaks. Kruzel’s pile of nightly homework was comparatively shorter, but his odds were longer; the Lions already had a veteran snapper — 11 years and counting as of last spring — in Don Muhlbach.

“Mentally, I prepared for not being signed to the team,” said Kruzel, who, no shock, wasn’t. “At the end of the week, they said, ‘We’re going to stick with Don and if anything happens we’ll let you know.’”

Nothing did, although Kruzel was told by his agent in that the Lions’ special-teams coach had called in August to say that while he’d been lobbying to bring Trever back in, the club couldn’t find the right hole within another roster group.

“It’s a bummer,” Kruzel said, “but it just shows that you’re still on the radar.”

The waiting, as the song goes, is the hardest part.

“At this point, I just need to be on as many radars as possible,” Kruzel explained, “which is what MLFB is all about. That’s kind of my big goal this year: to land myself in a preseason game.”

Ultimately, though, keeping a pro football gig in your purview means being able to drop everything on a dime to attend a tryout — a tryout that could necessitate a long drive or a flight out for an extended period. The candle can only burn on both ends for so long before the wax gives way.

“Fox Motors, they were great, awesome, very supportive and everything,” Kruzel said. “But you can only ask so many favors of time off to pursue football. I kind of maxed out my vacation time in six or seven months. I decided it was best to pull the plug on that.”

He said goodbye to the car game and moved back to Boyne City this past October, taking a job with his dad’s excavation company — the occasional last-second out-of-town junket is OK with Papa Kruzel — and joining Tyler in the gym. The Packers tried him out last summer and the Lions have stayed in touch, for whatever that’s worth. When you’re a 24-year-old snapper, you know better than to slam any doors until you’re ready to give up the dream for good.

“When I was talking to my agent, John Perez, he said during the first conversation we had, ‘If you’re willing to do this, I’ll give it my all,’” Kruzel recalled. “‘But just know, it’s a marathon, it’s not bing-bang-boom and you’re in. It takes a lot of time. There are 32 jobs out there that we’re trying out for and (you don’t know) when they’ll open up.’ But there’s another guy who’ll be at the right spot at the right time — and boom, he’ll be there for 10 years. That’s kind of the screwy thing about it: There’s no ‘for-sure’ route.”

Or for-sure table lamps.

“Those bulbs are not hanging like they should,” Trever chuckled. “Let’s put it that way.”

Above: Trever Kruzel’s brief stop in Lions camp. (Courtesy Trever Kruzel)
Middle: Tyler (left) and Trever Kruzel at the FCS Bowl. (Courtesy Trever Kruzel)

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