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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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This Kruger is scary on the field

By Cody Brunner

There might have been a time when Utah defensive end Paul Kruger felt bad for an opposing quarterback after delivering a bone-jarring hit. There might have been a time when he thought twice about digging his helmet into a helpless pass-thrower’s back.

The time for sorrow has long since passed. Kruger’s days of being a quarterback at Timpanogos High School have come and gone. All that’s left of that big softie is a similar frame.

Now when you look at Kruger, what you get is a 6-foot-5, 255-pound hitting machine that shows no regret for the pain he inflicts on opposing quarterbacks. The defensive take-no-prisoners mentality has fully consumed him.

“Absolutely no remorse whatsoever,” Kruger said. “It’s so rare for you to hurt somebody just by hitting them, so any chance I get, I’m more than happy to dish out some pain.”

Kruger didn’t always think like that.

The Orem-product was originally recruited to the U by Urban Meyer to play quarterback, but defensive coordinator Gary Andersen was impressed with Kruger’s unique combination of size and athleticism and brought him over to the dark side.

“When we recruited him, he was going to come in and try quarterback for a little bit, but we talked with him, and he’s really found a home at defensive end now,” Andersen said.

Kruger wasn’t exactly thrilled with the positional change initially.

“To be quite honest, I was really disappointed at first, because I had played quarterback my whole life,” Kruger said. “But after a few weeks of playing at defensive end, I grew to love it and knew that I could excel there.”

After watching the Utes’ Fiesta Bowl victory in 2004 in his redshirt season, Kruger’s football career took a two-year hiatus while he served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Kansas City, Mo.

Kruger came back to Utah more experienced than when he left, with a clear perspective and focus on what he wanted in life and what it would take to achieve that.

“I learned a lot out there, but most of all I learned discipline and hard work,” Kruger said.

Still, with a multitude of talent at defensive end early this spring, Kruger was unsure about playing the position and decided to tryout at tight end instead.

Kruger liked getting back on the offensive side of the ball but ultimately felt that defensive end was a more natural position for him and moved back.

The result has been a good one if you’re a Utah fan. Heading into the final game of the season against Navy, the freshman is fourth on the team in tackles (53), fifth in tackles for loss (6.0) and has recorded two sacks, one interception, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.

Kruger has proven a menace to opposing quarterbacks even when he doesn’t get to them. He has batted down five balls at the line of scrimmage — more than any other Ute on the defensive line.

All of that is impressive for a guy who wasn’t on the depth chart at defensive end during spring football.

“I think the biggest thing for me was taking advantage of every opportunity,” Kruger said. “If you get in for one play or 50 plays in a game, you have to make every play your best, because you never know how many chances you’re going to get.”

The scary part for Mountain West Conference offenses is that Kruger is only a freshman. He’ll be harassing MWC quarterbacks for another three years.

“Kruger’s a freak,” said Utah defensive end Martail Burnett, to whom Kruger looks for an example. “The kid’s a freshman phenom. He plays with strength and speed, and a lot of people forget that he’s just a freshman.”

Not only is Kruger paying dividends for the Utes on the field, but he’s also one of the main reasons that his younger brother David has verbally committed to play for the Utes next season.

David Kruger is a 6-foot-4, 264-pound defensive tackle from Timpanogos High School who has received attention from the likes of Oregon, Oregon State, California, Nebraska and BYU.

“He’s had a big influence on my life,” David Kruger said. “He’s a really good example to me. He’s gone on an LDS mission and set the bar really high for that and also set the bar really high for playing D-I football.”

Paul Kruger’s accomplishments in his freshman year at the U have earned him freshman All-American honors on various websites. On Tuesday, he was also named All-MWC honorable mention.

All of this from a former quarterback.

That Paul Kruger is long gone now, however. All that’s left is a fierce defensive end who loves to inflict his will on opposing teams.

“It’s a whole different mindset over here (on defense),” Kruger said. “You never hold back and you never feel bad for anyone.”

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