Brian Casey ’09, ’12 : A European Football Life
Brian Casey ’09, ’12 did not plan to still be playing football at age 37. Then again, he didn’t plan to play American football for six different teams across five countries in Europe. “Never in my wildest dreams did I anticipate I’d play football professionally for as long as I have and travel the world along with it,” he said. “The ability to play the game and inspire others to continue their dreams is the greatest gift I could ever ask for.”
At Azusa Pacific University, Casey redshirted his freshman year. As a sophomore, he struggled to see playing time until an injury sidelined the starting linebacker. Once he got his opportunity to play for the Cougars, Casey never looked back. He started for the next three years and went on to become a team captain, APU’s Defensive MVP, First Team All-Independent, and Third Team All-American as a senior. “It was tough to have to wait to get on the field, but when I look back, giving it up to God and seeing where He led me solidified my faith in Him,” Casey said.
Casey also saw his faith grow from the bonds he made on the team. With his teammates, he enjoyed road trips with the players who became his brothers. “We were all brothers of one blood under Christ battling together on the gridiron.” His coaches including Peter Schinnik, Victor Santa Cruz, Bo Beatty, Peder Moore, and Brian Wilmer played an influential role in Casey’s life. “They invited me in with open arms. Playing for these steadfast men of God—it felt like a family from the start,” Casey said. “They cared for us like we were their sons. They wanted us to succeed on the field and long after we were done playing.”
After graduating, Casey found an agent and was signed by the West Texas Roughnecks, an arena football team. His teammates were from across the country, some also just out of college and some much older who had been cut from NFL teams and were trying to make their way back. Unfortunately, shortly into his first year, Casey injured his knee in practice. “It was a minor injury. I was only out for a couple weeks, but it was still too long,” he said. “My linebacker coach told me they were cutting me and sending me home. That was my first wake up call in the business of professional football.” Casey returned to Southern California and worked on his master’s in physical education at APU. Just a few months later, he got a call that changed everything.
Casey’s agent had received interest from the Allgau Comets, an American football team in Germany. “Not a lot of people know about American football in Europe. I didn’t even know about it back then,” he said. After the dissolvement of NFL Europe, an NFL sponsored league with teams across Europe, many European countries started their own leagues. While the leagues were smaller, they provided more opportunities for countries to develop their own talent and recruit American players to help spread the game. “I was amazed that I could get paid to play football and travel,” he said. “I knew I had to take the chance. It was life changing in every sense of the word.”
Casey fell in love with the experience from the start. The teams felt more like a family, and less like the rat race of arena football. He received stipends for housing, food, insurance, and was given a car by a local dealership. As one of only four Americans on the team (German leagues cap at two Americans on offense and defense), Casey was able to make friends and build connections with players from all over the world. “You’re brought into this multicultural world and are traveling a bunch right away,” he said. “My first year, I soaked it up and took it all in.” A few of his friends from APU flew out for his final game of the season. After the game, they traveled to Paris, London, Ireland, and Amsterdam.
Casey returned to the U.S. for a few years before his next contract with the Sirium Legionaries in Serbia (2014-15). Then he joined the Albershausen Crusaders back in Germany (2016-17), before signing with the Patrioci Poznań in Poland (2018). In what he thought would be his final season, he played for the Bratislava Monarchs in Slovakia (2019). “I’ve seen just about every side of Europe. The game has grown and changed so much,” he said. Casey’s career accolades include being inducted into the Touchdown Europe Hall of Fame, four championships (Serbia, Slovakia, and Germany twice), six Euro American All-Star Bowl selections, two Polish Player of the Week awards, and a German Football League South Defensive Player of the Year award.
After COVID struck in 2020, Casey decided to begin his coaching career, coaching outside linebackers (one of the many positions he played professionally) for the University of Virginia College at Wise, an NCAA Division II program. While Casey learned from the experience, he realized he had some gas left in the tank of his playing career. “I remember so many people telling me they wished they had played longer,” he said. “I always wanted to play football at the highest level for as long as I could before coaching. I prayed about it and decided to give it one last go.”
The return didn’t go as planned. After signing with the Ravensburg Razorbacks in Germany in March 2022, he tore his hamstring during the second game of the season. After rehab, he tried to come back a few weeks later, but wasn’t at full strength and injured his shoulder, ending his season early. “This season tested my faith more than it’s ever been tested. It was the first time in 20 years that I had a season ending injury,” he said. Casey returned home before getting an offer from an old APU friend to train and rehab his injury in North Carolina. He spent the next several months recovering and focusing on his health.
Although he has yet to make a decision on whether he’ll play one truly final season, Casey is confident in his future and his identity in Christ. “Through all this, I see God has a plan and a direction for me. It may not be what I thought of, but I’m so appreciative of it all,” he said. “I always tell people that I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it wasn’t for APU and wasn’t for football and traveling. Football teaches you so much. It teaches you how to do things the right way, how to be a man, how to be on time, how to be a leader, how to be the first to show up and the last to leave.” During the offseasons, Casey has worked for a camp called Europe’s Elite, sharing American football with European kids who are interested in playing in college and professionally. This has given him the opportunity to be a role model and share his faith. He gives the same advice to these kids that he would current APU athletes who aspire to play professionally. “Trust God first and yourself second. Don’t listen to the naysayers. If it makes you happy and you feel that you’re doing what God has called you to do, then stay true to that path,” Casey said. “If you have God in your heart, believe me, you’ll do amazing things.”
Posted: March 27, 2023