BYFIELD — There was a slight lull in the action. As the Milton Academy offense gathered in the huddle, Governor’s Academy junior Jos Cremers removed his helmet and placed it on the ground.
At 6 feet, 5 inches, 290 pounds,the defensive tackle readjusted his skull cap – revealing the hearing device he has implanted behind both ears.
Cremers found out at the age of six he had high hearing loss. The doctors had cautioned him and his family that one day this could result in complete deafness. At 10, this fear came to fruition. By January of 2011, he had two cochlear implants surgically placed behind both ears, serving as a prosthetic substitute to help him hear.
Now, in his first year at Governor’s Academy, Cremers finds himself more than 3,500 miles away from his home of Meinersen, Germany. This fall, he became a focal point for the Govs (6-2) on both sides of the ball in their resurgence in the ISL.
But the journey for Cremers is one that may only just be beginning.
Growing up most of his life in Germany, Cremers was introduced to the physicality of American football early on during high school overseas. His size and strength got the attention of a professional club team in his hometown, and from there the passion for the sport was ignited.
Last year, Cremers left everything behind in Germany to come over to America as an exchange student and attended public high school in the small Nebraska town of Exeter.. He was a member of the football team.
“I pretty much moved out from my parents’ house when I was 16,” Cremers said. “So you kind of have to learn living on your own without your siblings, and completely being out of your comfort zone in a different country.”
His talent then captured the attention of Bjorn Werner, a 2013 first-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts, who had just begun a recruiting-based platform for football players based in Europe known as Gridiron Imports.
“When I and my former high school coach [and business partner] Chris Adamson created Gridiron Imports, we had the goal in mind to give international football players a platform to start their career in the US,” said Werner, a 6-foot-3, 255-pound defensive end who was the ACC Defensive Player of the Year as a senior at Florida State.
“I played at Salisbury School [Conn.] and this opportunity changed my life forever,” Werner said. “In Europe, it is so hard to get a chance to come to the US if you don’t have a lot of money, but those boarding schools do an amazing job with financial aid.”
The process of this program helps the boarding schools find football players that fit its criteria, and they do the pre-evaluation so the schools know right away exactly how a kid stands academically, financially, and what their football skills are. Werner and Adamson also help the families of these kids in every detail of the process.
As Werner says, “We are basically the American family that supports them through the process because a lot of families never heard about a boarding school.”
Werner was immediately impressed by Cremers. Not only did he feel that he had the size and skill to play, but Werner described him as the perfect type of kid that you would want at your school. Cremers’ dedication to his community outside of football is just as impressive as his talent in the trenches.
And once Werner was made aware of the story of Cremers’ hearing impairment, it only astonished him more.
“When he told me about it, I was so amazed how a 16-year-old kid left his family with his hearing loss,” Werner said. “I was so motivated by him because he inspires a lot of people that have some kind of condition and he shows them that this will not hold back his dream of playing football.
“Just absolutely amazing. He can hear with his hearing aid just fine, but he is also a mentally strong kid because he wears it proudly and is not ashamed of it.”
Werner and Gridiron Imports helped find a perfect home for Jos at Governor’s Academy under the guidance and tutelage of football coach Jim O’Leary.
O’Leary, now in his seventh year, was able to see clips of Jos play last year before he came to Governor’s – citing that his size and ability to come off from the ball as two first impressions he had of him as a football player.
The hearing loss has not been an issue at all for O’Leary in coaching Cremers. And the ISL was great to allow him to wear his hearing device underneath his helmet, and allow him to remove his helmet on the field to adjust if it ever becomes detached.
“As a coach, I try to treat Jos just like everyone else even though he has the hearing loss,” said O’Leary. “There are times that he may not be able to hear the cadence from the quarterback, but he is such a good athlete he can react to first movements from the players around him.”
As for his ability to play at the next level, college?
“I believe Jos could play at the college level on the offensive line,’’ O’Leary said. “He has great feet and is very strong. His hard work will pay off over the next two years in which he will have an opportunity to play college football.”
Cremers played on both sides of the ball, nose tackle on defense and left tackle on offense. But the adjustment to playing offense has been a challenge for Cremers, one he has readily embraced.
“Offensive line is completely new to me,” he said. “I have to learn everything. I still have to learn a lot, but I am working on myself really hard to get to that point where I can say, when I am 56 years old, I did my best.”
Jos once again removed his helmet and set it aside as he fixed his cap and fiddled with his hearing device. By the time the Milton Academy offense came up to the line of scrimmage, Cremers’ was already in position at nose tackle – eagerly waiting to make an impact.
As the ball was snapped, Jos powered his way through one lineman, and then another, and then a third, toward the quarterback.
Milton’s Alec Beesmer was forced out of the pocket. As Bessmer scrambled for daylight, Cremers tackled him from behind, forcing a fumble recovered by the Govs.
Cremers raised his hands in celebration, capped with an emphatic fist pump towards the Governor’s Academy sideline. He unbuckled his helmet, repositioned his black skull cap and readjusted his cochlear implants before lining up at offensive tackle.
American football has become the ultimate passion for Cremers, who one day dreams of playing Division 1 football. More than 3,500 miles away from his home in Germany, Cremers’ passion and gridiron goals fuel his improbable journey to the US.
“I love the intensity and the brotherhood. A brotherhood is really big on a football team. It is kind of like a new family,” said Jos, pausing for a moment to put his hand over his chest.
“You have 50 brothers of not blood, but heart.”
Eine Reise, die gerade erst beginnt. A journey that is just beginning.Karl Capen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.