For years, Alex Linnenkohl has fought off critics’ notion that he was too small to play football at the next level. The 2006 Capital High School graduate has proven the doubters wrong with his play.
Linnenkohl, who finished his college career last season as one of Oregon State’s all-time best centers, signed a rookie free agent contract with the Chicago Bears on Tuesday afternoon, fulfilling his longtime dream of getting a chance to play in the NFL. He was one of two undrafted centers signed by Chicago, joining Mississippi State’s J.C. Brignone.
“This is all I’ve ever wanted,” Linnenkohl said Tuesday from Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., where the Bears will begin training camp Saturday. “It’s pretty surreal right now. It hasn’t really hit me yet.”
He was in Corvallis, Ore., on Monday, working out with former teammates at Oregon State in preparation for signing with an NFL team, when he got a call from Mike Tice, the Bears’ offensive line coach.
Linnenkohl bolted for Olympia, arriving early Tuesday morning before flying from Sea-Tac to Chicago a few hours later. Like all undrafted rookies, he signed a three-year contract, and he immediately got to work, meeting the coaching staff and getting fitted for pads. Chicago was one of eight teams interested in Linnenkohl.
Linnenkohl is one of two players with South Sound ties who will get their first chance with an NFL team this fall. Shelton High School graduate Caleb Schlauderaff, a former guard at the University of Utah, was a sixth-round draft pick by the Green Bay Packers in April.
Despite talk of Linnenkohl being undersized for a center (6-foot-2, 303 pounds), he’s nearly the same size as current Chicago center and former University of Washington player Olin Kreutz (6-2, 292), a 14-year veteran and six-time Pro Bowl selection.
Knowing that small players have had NFL success is inspiring to Linnenkohl.
“It’s a good feeling,” Linnenkohl said. “It’s a good motivation that (there are) guys the same size, or small, who are thriving.”
Pro Football Weekly described Linnenkohl as “a tough, smart competitive battler ... (who) knows how to play the game and has the savvy and positional instincts to develop into an eventual starter.”
“Alex has opportunities,” said Bill Linnenkohl, Alex’s father. “We’ll see what happens. Now it’s a matter of making the team.”
During his career at Oregon State, Linnenkohl excelled as a three-year starter and earned second-team all-Pacific-10 Conference honors last season.
He first got his start as a redshirt sophomore, then started 38 consecutive games. As a mainstay on the offensive line, he helped Jacquizz Rodgers rush for 1,000-plus yards in each of the past three seasons.
During Linnenkohl’s senior season, in which the Beavers went 5-7, scouts and agents began talking with Linnenkohl. That made Linnenkohl believe that playing the NFL could turn into a reality.
“Still, I never wanted to give up my hopes,” Linnenkohl said.
At Capital, Linnenkohl was a first-team all-Narrows League Bay Division selection and a member of The Olympian’s All-Area team as a senior in 2005. He signed with Oregon State after getting offers from schools such as California, Michigan State and Wake Forest.
The Bears finished 12-6 last season and lost to Green Bay, 21-14, in the NFC Championship Game. Their first 2011 exhibition game is Aug. 13 against the Buffalo Bills, and they open the regular season Sept. 11 against the Atlanta Falcons.
THE ALEX LINNENKOHL FILE
Height: 6-2. Weight: 303
College: Oregon State. High school: Capital (2006)
Bio: Signed an undrafted rookie free agent contract with the Chicago Bears. Will be reunited with former Oregon State teammate Stephen Paea (defensive tackle), who was a second-round draft pick by the Bears in April. Was a three-year starting center at Oregon State, starting 38 consecutive games. Second-team all-Pacific-10 as a senior. Named first-team all-Narrows League Bay Division and a member of The Olympian’s All-Area team as a high school senior in 2005. Earned a business degree from Oregon State. Three-time all-Pac-10 academic team member.
Meg Wochnick, staff writer