BARBOURVILLE, Ky. - Most collegiate athletes dream of playing professionally. While those opportunities are often rare for the masses, two former Union College Bulldogs have entered the pro ranks in the German Football League.
Kyle Callahan (Covington, Ky.) is the starting quarterback for the Kiel Baltic Hurricanes, while Patrick O'Neal (Lula, Ga.) is a starting linebacker for the Berlin Adler.
"I'm very proud of both Kyle and Patrick," said Union head coach Tommy Reid. "Both of them have worked very hard during their time with us at Union and deserve the opportunity to play professionally.
"I think both of them are very capable of doing well with the teams they are playing for."
Callahan admitted to be taken aback by the chance to play overseas.
"At first, I was truly shocked when this opportunity arrived," he said. "This is a dream come true and a real experience for me to grow and mature as a person and as a ballplayer."
Both teams are off to a good start with O'Neal's Adler 2-0 and Callahan's Baltic Hurricanes 2-1. The Hurricanes' loss came to Adler in the teams' season opener.
The German Football League, which has been in existence since 1979, is the top professional league in Germany and has 11 teams divided into two divisions - five in the GFL North and six in the GFL South. Last year, Kiel advanced to the championship game before losing to the Braunschweig Lions 20-14. Kiel has never won the GFL championship; however, Berlin has won five titles with the last coming in 2002.
O'Neal had not played a down in over a year before joining Adler. The 6-foot-1 linebacker's senior season came in 2007 when he set a then-program record for tackles in a season with 143. He finished his four-year career as the Bulldogs' second all-time leading tackler with 390 total stops.
"It is just nice to finally see all that hard work pay off," O'Neal said of the opportunity to play for Berlin. "I am really excited to get the season under way to see how the teams compare to the ones in the (United) States."
For Callahan, the decision to join Kiel was not an easy one. The 6-foot, 188-pounder had been a star wide receiver at Union, setting the single-season (13) and career (23) touchdown receptions record while tying the single-game (3) mark. Callahan finished his career as the program's third all-time leading receiver with 125 receptions for a total of 1,789 yards.
But Kiel wanted Callahan to be its starting quarterback.
Callahan had some experience under center, spending much of the 2006 season as Union's signal-caller and completed 67-of-173 passes for 1,029 yards and six touchdowns. For his career, he threw for 1,588 yards and 11 touchdowns.
"I think that I have done some good things playing quarterback," Callahan said. "The transition back to (quarterback) will take some time, but it will work itself out in the end."
Thus far, Callahan has taken nicely to new position. In three games, he has completed 67-of-99 passes for 636 yards and four touchdowns with only two interceptions. In addition, he has rushed for 196 yards and four more scores on 35 carries.
Callahan's best game to date came in a 39-36 win over Essen Assindia Cardinals has he threw for 312 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 145 yards and two scores.
O'Neal is doing what he did while at Union - lead the team in tackles. In both of the Adler's contest, he has been the team's top tackler with seven against Kiel and five in a 41-0 win over the Munich Cowboys.
"It is a great experience getting to play in Germany, especially in Berlin," O'Neal said. "It was hard to get use to everything, but the players on the team really make you feel at home."
Callahan the rest of the Baltic Hurricanes have are off until June 7 when Kiel will face the Marburg Mercenaries. O'Neal and the Adler will play host to the Dresden Monarchs on May 31.
Photos by Zelter Media Services