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Grizzlies go to next level

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Seniors Kyle Linville and Jonny West played their final college football game on Nov. 30.

But the occasion, which was the second round of the NCAA Division III playoffs at Wisconsin-Whitewater, wasn’t the end of their football careers.

Two of Division III’s top performers the past three years, the former Franklin College standouts — who also were teammates at Speedway High School — recently signed professional contracts to play overseas.

Linville, a first-team All-American wide receiver, will continue his career with the Schwaebisch Hall Unicorns of the German Football League. And West, a record-setting quarterback, will play for the Turku Trojans in Finland.

Linville reports to his new team March 15. The Unicorns’ season begins April 26.

West won’t arrive until later in the spring. The Trojans’ season begins in June.

One of the most accomplished receivers in Division III history, Linville regards the German League as a possible springboard to the NFL. He had considered exploring Arena Football League, Canadian League and NFL opportunities, but a nagging ankle injury has been a bit of a conditioning setback.

His objective is to refine his skills and heal up for a possible shot for an NFL training camp invitation.

“It was a better route to maybe go over to Germany, play another year and get better, but also get more healthy,” said West, who owns virtually every Franklin College receiving record. “When my shot comes, I want to be able to give it the best shot I have.”

One of 10 finalists for the Gagliardi Trophy, awarded annually to Division III’s top player, Linville is the Grizzlies’ career leader for receptions (308), receiving yards (4,691) and touchdowns (53). He also set a school single-season record in 2013 for catches (108).

In 2012, Linville established single-season team records for receiving yards (1,426) and touchdowns (21). His contributions were instrumental in helping the Grizzlies advance to the NCAA Division III Tournament four consecutive seasons.

“One of the reasons I picked D-III football and the Franklin program is because, at the D-III level, everyone’s playing for the love of the game,” said Linville, who graduated in December with a degree in quantitative analysis. “We’re not getting scholarships or money. The game’s a little more pure at this level.

“I really developed a love for the game, even more so than I did in high school.”

Only now, he will get paid.

Following a path first blazed by former Franklin College quarterback Chad Rupp, who played for Schwaebisch in 2009, Linville will receive a modest salary but will have his housing, transportation and food paid for. The Unicorns, winners of the 2011 and 2012 German Bowl championships, play a 14-game schedule that concludes Sept. 6.

Depending how far Schwaebisch advances in the playoffs, Linville could be in Europe until late October.

“I thought playing over in Germany would be fun, football-wise, but also be an experience for me to see other parts of the world,” said Linville, who was also named to multiple Academic All-America teams his senior year. “(Schwaebisch) pays enough to live over there and travel and get the full experience.

“You don’t make a lot of money, but you definitely don’t lose money.”

West is in a similar situation with the Finnish team.

One of Division III’s top passers throughout his career, the two-time Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year will now earn a paycheck for completing passes.

“I’m definitely excited about being able to continue playing football,” said West, the most prolific passer in Grizzlies’ history. “The offensive system (in Finland) is very similar to the one we used at Franklin.

“I am also looking forward to traveling and seeing a different part of the world.”

A journalism and public relations major, West set Franklin career records for passing yards (10,653), touchdowns (105), completions (894) and total offense. He led Division III in passing yards last season with 3,939 and was named the HCAC Offensive Player of the Year in 2011 and 2013.

Franklin won four straight HCAC championships during West and Linville’s careers and advanced to the second round of the Division III playoffs three straight seasons.

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