COLUMBIA — Off the field, Josh German is a teddy bear.
But, suited up on game night in his purple-and-gold helmet and sizable pads, the junior lineman transforms into one pretty menacing Kewpie.
Hickman (2-3) vs. Rockhurst (3-2)
WHEN: 7 p.m.
WHERE: Rockhurst High School, Kansas City
"He’s a great kid,” said Arnell Monroe, the Hickman defensive coordinator. “But he’s also one of the leaders in the program, and he works really hard at his trade and craft.”
German, who stands 6 feet 1 inch tall and weighs 263 pounds, is a quiet, polite student. Widely regarded as shy and unassuming, he devotes his attention and energy to the Hickman football team and, on the field, is a mentor to his teammates. During practice and in game situations, German transforms into an intense, focused player with high aspirations for himself and his team.
“Everybody looks up to him,” Monroe said. “He’s really unassuming about it, really humble and very noble about it. The thing that makes Josh special is that Josh is going to lead by example. Josh is going to be accountable.”
With a pair of glasses perched on the bridge of his nose and a bright, crooked smile, German would not appear, at first glance, to be a star football player. However, with innate talent and years of hard work behind him, he is an aggressive force on the field.
“He’s extremely talented,” Monroe said. “He’s about as gifted a lineman as we have in the city. What makes Josh exceptional is that he’s relentless in his preparation, relentless when he plays. He plays with great heart and emotion.”
Despite his obvious talent, which he displays each time he sacks the opposing quarterback or forces a receiver into the grass, German does not take all the credit for his drive and motivation.
“My mom is very supportive of me,” he said. “She tells me before every game to look out for my best interests and always do good, and I always think of her and how she tells me go to for the 'W.'”
With the encouragement of his mother and his friends, German has been playing football since he was 9 years old. His years of devotion to the sport paid off last season when he was one of the few sophomores to make the varsity squad, but he remains humble about his early success and has continued to exhibit the same dedication to the sport he always has.
"I just went out there and played my game,” German said about succeeding as a sophomore. “I didn’t think about anything else, and I just focused on doing what I needed to do.”
As an established varsity player, German knows that many of his teammates look to him for advice about the game. Many of the junior varsity linemen, such as sophomore Tre Knoche, watch German play to pick up tips on how to improve their own skills and make the varsity squad next year.
"He’s always working with other linemen,” Monroe said. “He stays out here after practice, working on his snaps, and he will work with anyone else who’s out there. He works really hard at everything he does.”
Knoche is grateful for German’s help at practice, and he says he admires the fact that German can go from being an unassuming classmate to a team leader when he enters the huddle or lines up before a snap.
“He’s kind of a shy guy, but on the field he pumps everybody up,” Knoche said. “He’s a good leader during the game; if you do something wrong, he’ll help you out. But he also encourages people when they’re out there.”
German said that helping his teammates is, to him, just another part of the game. Although he does have high personal goals, like a collegiate football career, he tries to devote his attention to the team and how it can improve.
“I focus all the time on what I can do to better the team,” he said. “It’s not just about me getting better, it’s about the team getting better. I can always work harder, train harder, get things done correctly.”
Although much of German's success is a result of lifting weights, running drills and scrutinizing plays, Monroe said that German's intensity and in-game focus will help the Kewpies improve as a team. Frustrated after last week’s 26-0 loss to Rock Bridge, German said that his duty to the team is to channel his disappointment into a win Friday at Rockhurst.
"I really haven’t forgotten about what happened,” German said. “It was very disheartening and disappointing, so I have to use my anger and frustrations this week against Rockhurst.”
With a sheepish smile, German seems surprised by his success, but he knows that his hard work on the football field is the key to achieving his goals: success for the Hickman team and a chance to play college football. When he takes off his glasses and puts on his helmet, German’s smile transforms into a look of determination, and he never stops questioning how he and the Kewpies can improve.
“I take the stuff I learn here and look at myself and say, ‘How can I do better? What can I do better?’” German said. “That will help to make the team better as a whole.”