Marla Ridenour: With three Kruger boys in the NFL, what’s a mom to do?

By Marla Ridenour
Beacon Journal sports columnist

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Baltimore Ravens linebacker Paul Kruger prepares to catch a pass during practice for Super Bowl XLVII . The Browns have reached an agreement on a five-year, $40 million deal with Kruger, a league source confirmed today for the Beacon Journal. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Jennifer Kruger’s moment of truth for the 2013 football season came not long after the conclusion of the NFL Draft.

With three sons and a son-in-law on NFL rosters, she anxiously opened the Browns’ and Philadelphia Eagles’ schedules on separate windows on her computer and compared them side-by-side.

She attended all the home games the previous year, when sons Joe and Dave played defensive line at the University of Utah and oldest son Paul started eight games at linebacker for the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. The Browns lured Paul away in free agency and Dave, signed as an undrafted rookie, joined him in Cleveland. The Eagles selected Joe, who left college with a year of eligibility remaining, in the seventh round. Jennifer Kruger also hoped to squeeze in a couple of games in Oakland since daughter Jessica’s husband, Tony Bergstrom, plays guard for the Raiders.

But Jennifer Kruger wasn’t sure the scheduling gods would be on her side for two years in a row.

“The schedules matched up perfect. She started crying,” Dave said Saturday. “When we’re home, Philly’s away and when Philly’s away, we’re home. That really gave her comfort that she could be at all the games.”

Jennifer Kruger called the scheduling quirk “remarkable” and said, “I feel so lucky.”

The six Kruger children will turn that sentiment around today. Because of offseason NFL workouts and minicamps, their Mother’s Day celebration in Orem, Utah, will be without Paul, Dave and Joe. But the rest of the Kruger clan, which also includes two grandchildren, will attend church, then gather for a barbecue.

In a telephone interview last week, Jennifer Kruger called herself “a professional spectator.”

To Dave Kruger, she is much more than that.

“She’s an amazing woman,” Dave said. “She’s, as you could say, the owner of our family. She runs the business.”

He was talking about the business of family, not the family’s Green Life Labs, a nutritional company that sells protein for athletes, owned by his father, Paul. His job commitments mean much of the time Jennifer is traveling alone.

“It’s crazy. I don’t know how she does it, to be honest,” Dave said. “Last year, she’d fly to Baltimore, then Oakland, then she’d go to the Utah games, then to my little brother’s games and to my little sister’s events.”

Jennifer Kruger, 47, is used to the hectic life. She’s raised Paul, 29; Jessica, 25; Dave, who turns 23 Friday; Joe, 20; Mark, 18 this week; and Erica, 16.

All four boys played football, basketball and baseball, although not all the way through high school. Jessica and Erica participated in volleyball and cheerleading, although Erica is giving up both to concentrate on student government for her senior year. Mark was an all-state defensive tackle and guard as a senior at Pleasant Grove High School who also placed second in the state in powerlifting. After his upcoming graduation, he will serve a two-year Mormon mission in Adelaide, Australia.

“I say my two youngest ones were raised on a basketball court or on a football field. We had to take little toddlers and make it all work,” Jennifer Kruger said.

When the oldest boys were growing up, Jennifer Kruger drove a Suburban around town, her sons often changing clothes in the back. But none of it may have prepared her for the unusual situation of having the three University of Utah products in the NFL at the same time.

It has been done before. In 2011, there were three Gronkowskis (Rob, Chris and Dan, the latter in Cleveland) playing in the league. Presently, there are three Trufants — Marcus with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Desmond with the Atlanta Falcons and Isaiah with the New York Jets — on NFL rosters.

But a list of brothers compiled by the Pro Football Hall of Fame through the 2012 season had only 24 families with three or more and only eight that played at the same time. Three of those eight were in the 1920s.

Jennifer Kruger said she knew early on her boys would be football players. Her husband played at Oregon State, her father, Brent Hafen, at the University of Utah before becoming a professor of health sciences at BYU. But she feels it has been a natural progression with Paul, Dave and Joe.

“People marvel and they’re like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe it.’ It is amazing and we feel so blessed and it is a remarkable thing, but at the same time, it felt really natural,” she said. “Here you are in high school, you have a couple scholarship offers, this is where you’re going and now you’re starting. Now it’s your senior year. … I guess we’ve been doing it for a while. I don’t mean to minimize how special it is and how blessed we are and the boys have been.”

There has been glory — none more so than Paul’s Super Bowl triumph last season. There have also been frightening experiences, including the day in January 2008 when Paul and Dave were attacked in an encounter with a gang. It was Dave’s recruiting trip to Utah. They were leaving a football gathering in Salt Lake City and headed to the Sundance Film Festival in Park City when a snowball thrown by a teammate led to a fight.

Paul suffering life-threatening slashes to his ribs and abdomen that required 50 staples and four hours of surgery to close. Dave’s nose was broken and a cheekbone shattered by what might have been brass knuckles.

“[Jessica] called me from the ambulance,” Jennifer Kruger remembered. “My knees buckled. I couldn’t stand for a minute. I thought, ‘While I’m down here on the floor, I’m going to say a prayer.’ ”

The incident rocked the Krugers, although Jennifer Kruger now calls it a “growth experience.”

“Our family is really close so when one of us is affected by something it really reaches deep to all of us,” she said. “It was really hard.”

As they celebrate this Mother’s Day, the Krugers’ lives seem idyllic. Things are so going so well that Jennifer Kruger has only one nagging concern as she prepares for the 2013 season.

“There’s no direct flights from Utah to Cleveland,” Dave Kruger said. “That was the one thing she was bugged about.”

Marla Ridenour can be reached at mridenour@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.


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