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Former Raven Trevor Pryce to debut kids series 'Kulipari' on Netflix

Trevor Pryce has two Super Bowl rings. But having those isn't as good as making 'Kulipari,' he says.

For most athletes, their best years are well behind them by the time the hit the big 4-0. But at 41, former NFL star Trevor Pryce has found a new and what he calls a better life among the frogs and scorpions of "Kulipari."

The trilogy of children's books he created starring a wannabe warrior frog named Darel has already successfully morphed into a mobile app, internet game, and lines of Mattel toys and Under Armour clothing.

Now, working out of an office in his Ellicott City home, the former Baltimore Ravens, New York Jets and Denver Broncos defensive lineman is going global with a TV version of "Kulipari" set to debut in Japanese, Farsi, German and host of other languages Sept. 2 on Netflix.

The premium streaming service will make all 13 episodes of the first season available on that day. And the first season will be followed by the launch of "Kulipari: Heritage," a comic book series that picks up the storyline and extends the franchise into yet another realm of popular culture.

Playing in two Super Bowls with the Broncos was a thrill, the 6-foot-5, 290-pound Pryce says, but neither gave him a sense of accomplishment comparable to what he's feeling now, thanks to the growing success of the saga he created out of his childhood fear of frogs. Here's why.

In his first Super Bowl appearance, "There were 150 plays in the game, and I played in 10 of them," he said, sitting at the computer in his home office, calling up scenes from the richly animated series. "I got a Super Bowl ring, and that's important and I cherish that and I cherish the experience. But more people had something to do with the victory than I did — a lot more."

In his second Super Bowl, Pryce started and played the whole game on defense, he said. He was on his way to being named to four Pro Bowls in a career that lasted 14 seasons, which is a long time in the brutal trenches of the NFL.

"But even then," he said of that second Super Bowl victory, "there was also a quarterback and a whole other [offensive] team involved. But 'Kulipari' is just me. It is live, breathe and die with every decision that only I make. That's why I can say it's at the very top of my accomplishments, because I have Mattel toys and a Netflix series and an Under Armour clothing line, and all that came from just these four walls and me and this computer. You know what I mean? That's why it's a little bit above the Super Bowls."

Pryce acknowledges having some pregame butterflies on the eve of his Netflix launch.

"I'm not scared per se," he said. "But I've never put out a TV show before."

He has worked in show business. Pryce started his own music recording company at one point, served as a TV sports analyst and developed a series for Disney that resulted in a temporary move to California.

"But as much I've gone around Hollywood and did writing and sold scripts, I've never gotten to this point," he said. "So every day, something is happening that is the first time it's happened. First time I've had marketing conversations. First time I've had second-season conversations. Everything is a first."

Not that the content or characters have changed from the books to TV series. It's the same Pryce-created universe set in a fictional Australian Outback where a tribe of peaceful amphibians live protected by a magical spell of safety — until an evil spider queen and an army of scorpions try to change that.

"I've seen it. I've made it. I know what it looks like," Pryce said of the template for the TV series. "But when you hear your characters talk in Farsi and you hear them talk in German, in French, in Japanese — when you hear all that stuff, it's like, 'OK, now it's real.'"

And that reality of seeing his vision come to life on the screen clearly has him pumped. As large as Pryce is, it is not his size that dominates the room. It is instead his motor. During a two-hour interview, his energy level never dropped a notch.

"Trevor is a force of nature," says Susan Van Metre, editor-in-chief for children's books at Abrams, Pryce's New York publisher. "I think there is nothing that he can't make happen. His enthusiasm for this world he created is just irresistible."

Van Metre, who edited the three "Kulipari" books, believes Pryce has "really tapped into this combination of humor and heroism that resonates so perfectly with boys — particularly ages 8 to 10."

And while there is action, adventure and even some "silliness," she believes there is also a deeper, mythic quality to the trilogy.

"When he first told me frogs and scorpions, I thought, 'What boy can resist that?'" Van Metre said of the sales pitch Pryce made to Abrams. "But he really delivered this full universe of creatures — set in the Outback, yes, but in the grand tradition of the hero's journey."

The hero's journey, as chronicled by mythologist Joseph Campbell in the landmark book "The Hero with a Thousand Faces," is as fundamental and profound as human storytelling gets, and Van Metre is right: You can find it in Pryce's "Kulipari" series.

That is especially true with the character of Darel, who trains religiously to be a Kulipari warrior frog like his father, even though he lacks the poison it takes to be a member of that elite. He lacks the poison because his mother was a nonpoisonous wood frog. Darel's story of aspiration and identity seems perfectly in tune with the multicultural zeitgeist of today.

Pryce's own journey to becoming a teller of frog stories is rooted in his childhood in Florida.

"So, where I grew up in central Florida, every time it rained, frogs would wind up hopping into the street," he said. "And I lived on a busy street. So what you would wind up with was crushed frog guts everywhere — everywhere. And it just put a fear in me of what was inside these frogs. It was pretty gross, right?"

It was worse with bullfrogs.

"For some reason, bullfrogs just always scared me — just creeped me out," he said. "They looked like monsters. I thought they were filled with pus, and they're not. They're filled with the same stuff we are. I was never afraid of snakes, lizards or violence. But frogs just freaked me out. I've gotten over it to an extent. But with a bullfrog, no sir."

By the time he got to high school, Pryce's size helped make him a standout football player who would earn a scholarship to the University of Michigan, where he played before transferring to Clemson University and becoming a first-round draft choice of the Broncos in 1997. And then, it was 14 years in the NFL.

But even then, Pryce always thought of himself as a "frustrated artist," he says.

"I could draw OK when I was as a kid," he said. "And then all of sudden, I hit puberty and lost all motor function."

Because of that frustration and his belief that books for young adults are about art first, Pryce said he finds himself "looking at art all the time" — especially online.

One of the places he regularly visits is the website of the Maryland Institute College of Art, where he found illustrator Sonia Liao, who is now designing covers and character for the Kulipari comics.

"I go there all the time looking for kids who can draw," Pryce said. "I like using local talent. I've never seen her — only talked to her on the phone. We texted and talked, and she loved the Kulipari story and she did all the covers. And people are flipping out. She is going to be a rock star.'"

Liao said she was impressed with the way Pryce expanded the anthropomorphic fantasy genre with the "Kulipari" series.

"It's really great to see something different: an Outback-inspired, tribalistic society as opposed to a feudal one," she wrote in an email. "Also, it's pretty bold to have the main characters be frogs! There's definitely a tendency for the protagonists to be mammals and the antagonists to be some cold-blooded creature. So, it's interesting to see the dynamics in a world where no one is immediately typecast by their species."

While Liao says she's still not sure how Pryce found her "via the web," she's glad he did. And she hopes to keep working with him.

Van Metre says she feels the same way and that she is talking with Pryce about a prequel, sequel or other ways to keep the Kulipari saga going in print past the original trilogy her company published.

Both Van Metre and Liao praised the entrepreneurial energy and sense of creative joy he brings to his franchise.

"The funny thing about Trevor, if I can say it, is that he is like a fantasy nerd in this incredible athlete's body," Van Metre said. "He is. When we talked early on, he said, 'When I realized how big I was going to be, I knew I was going to have to play football. But I really just wanted to be home watching 'Star Wars.' So he had an amazingly long career in sports, but I think he was just waiting to be himself."

Pryce did sound a little nerdy — but in a good way — when he announced during the interview that henceforth Sept. 2 would have a special designation commemorating the launch of "Kulipari" on Netflix.

"I've given Sept. 2nd a name from now on for every year: Amphibians Day," he said. "That's my Star Wars Day. From now on, Sept. 2nd will be Amphibians Day."

May the frogs be with you, Trevor.

david.zurawik@baltsun.com

The 'Kulipari' world

Books: "An Army of Frogs" (2013), "The Rainbow Serpent" (2015) and "Amphibians' End" (2015)

Mobile app: Kulipari Battalions for IOS/Tablet/Android devices

Merchandise: Under Armour Kulipari T-shirts, shorts and sportswear for boys and girls; Mattel toys featuring scorpions, warrior frogs and bull frogs.

•The animated series "Kulipari" will debut Sept. 2 on Netflix.

•"Kulipari: Heritage" comic book series debuts in September.

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