For job in football, Nieberlein is willing to sweat

How was your Fourth?

Did you have a family cookout?


Catch the Orioles game and the fireworks at the harbor?

Were you out on the Bay on one of those wall-to-wall pleasure boats?


Were you Downy Ayshun?

Ah, the delights of a Fourth of July holiday!

Let me tell you about one Baltimorean and the delights he enjoyed yesterday.

First, he went to the Towson Center at Towson State University and, on a day when most of us we wearing shorts and as little else as the law allows, he put on a football uniform.

Pads, helmet -- the whole number.

Then he spent two hours running, jumping, twisting, shoving, pushing and banging into muscular, outsized men who were mostly trying to run over him.

Then, at just about the time you and I decided that on such a stultifying day we didn't want to get too far from the A/C, our masochistic friend here went to the weight room and spent an hour lifting.

Great holiday, huh?


The weird thing is, he loved it.

His name is Karl Nieberlein. He's 23 years old and he's living at the moment with his brother, Rob, in Fells Point.

The first thing you have to do to understand Karl Nieberlein is see him.

He's 6-feet-5 and he weighs 285, 290 pounds. After a day like yesterday, it's more like 280.

Nieberlein plays for the Baltimore CFL football team. That's the second thing you have to know -- he plays for the new team in town.

No longer just a candidate for an offensive tackle spot, Karl plays.


He played the second half in the exhibition games at Shreveport and against Winnipeg here last week (both victories). If you were among the 28,798 who saw the Winnipeg game or TV replays of it over the holiday weekend, Nieberlein was No. 59.

When the team plane takes off tomorrow for Thursday's league opener in Toronto, he'll be on it.

"Karl is going to be with us," says his coach, CFL veteran Don Matthews. "Right now, he's on our practice squad but he's going to be with the team."

"Does that mean," Matthews was asked, "that if you you have an injury at his position, Karl will move up to the regular team?"

"We have an injury," Matthews said. "O'Neill Glenn. Strained Achilles'. Karl may play this game."

That's why young Nieberlein enjoyed his holiday so. He has a job. In football. He'll start looking for his own apartment when the team gets back from Toronto.


Being with a CFL team may not be the ultimate for a young football player, but for Nieberlein it's close. You have to look at it in context.

Karl Nieberlein went to Mount St. Joe and Towson State. He spent the last five football seasons playing at Towson under coaches Phil Albert and, for the last two years, Gordy Combs.

When the Baltimore CFL team reported to training camp, Karl was assigned to the same dorm he had lived in as a Towson State freshman.

At practice yesterday, on the same field on which he practiced throughout college, Nieberlein looked around and said: "I could find this field in my sleep."

Karl's roommates last year were fellow footballers John Loch and Andy Rehkemper. Loch, as Nieberlein explains it, "is trying to graduate." Rehkemper, like many '94 graduates, "is looking for a job." Suddenly, drawing a salary from a CFL team doesn't sound bad at all.

"Hey, I love being on this team," Karl says. "People ask me if I hope to catch on with an NFL team later. My answer is, no.


"I like it here. I like being at home. I like playing before my parents and friends. Some of my friends were carrying signs at the game last week. I'm really enjoying this."

"Karl's a good athlete," says Matthews. "He works hard. He's not as strong as he could be. He needs to spend time with the weights. But they all need that."

It surprises no one who knows the Nieberlein family that Karl is a good athlete. He is the youngest in a long line of jocks.

The line began with his father, Gene Nieberlein, longtime coach and athletic director at Mount St. Joe. Gene played basketball and football for St. Joe, then basketball at Dayton and Loyola College.

Gene Jr., the eldest brother, played football at Indiana, then transferred to Rutgers and played there.

Brother Chris played four years of basketball at Rutgers, Rob played basketball at George Mason, and the last two boys, Kirk and Karl, played football at Towson State.


"Being on this CFL team is exciting," Karl says. "The coach is a very good guy. He gets after you but he's fair. When we first came out, a lot of guys were getting dinged up, so he put us in shorts.

"Maybe what I like best is the fans here. They're so into this hatred for the NFL. I don't blame them either. These Baltimore people need a team and now they've got one.

"They take you right in."