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Crocodiles offensive coordinator David Odenthal, a native German who grew up playing for the club before receiving a scholarship to play at the University of Toledo and who spent time in two NFL camps before playing in NFL Europe, loved Djeri’s optimism.

"I like and liked the way he thinks about it," Odenthal said. "He doesn’t know or doesn’t care about all the things that go on about playing in the NFL. He didn’t know how hard it actually is and that makes him so special. I know he meant it when he said it."

Two years ago, Odenthal told Djeri that if he continued to work hard, he would help him get to America to play football. Odenthal had an in. He not only played college football and in NFL Europe, but he had two connections to the Cardinals. He had been scouted by Arizona’s current general manager, Steve Keim, while at Toledo, and he had developed a relationship with Ryan Gold, a Cardinals scout, when Gold was an assistant coach at the University of Massachusetts. Gold had recruited two of Odenthal’s offensive linemen.

In the meantime, teams around Europe had started recruiting him. And they were able to offer him something the Crocodiles couldn’t: money. They saw the potential in Djeri, a 6-foot-4, 268-pound player who showed burst off the edge and enough speed to get into backfields as well as track down receivers past the line of scrimmage.

Gold liked Djeri’s foot speed, natural bend and power. But what was most enticing to the Cardinals was that since Djeri hadn’t gone to college, he was, in the NFL’s eyes, a free agent and not a draft-eligible prospect. So if the Cardinals were interested in signing him, they could bring him in for a tryout and not risk losing him in the draft.

Like any kid enthralled with a new sport, he went straight to his mother and asked to play. He doesn’t think she knew what the sport was at the time, but she still gave him a resounding "no." Her reasons for not letting him play fell in line with those of many American parents today: "You’re going to get hurt," she told him.

Then Djeri — 11 at the time — his mother and his four siblings moved to Germany to reunite with his father, whom Djeri said he hadn’t really know. He asked to play football again after they moved, but this time both parents nixed the idea, and he started playing the other football — soccer. Djeri stuck with the sport for seven years, but he started to outgrow the other kids on the pitch. He was too physical, and all that contact quickly led to penalty cards, so his coaches put him in net. He flourished as a goalkeeper, leading his team to a league championship.

Djeri, 18 at the time, had gotten his chance, but he would have to play covertly. And he did, until one day his mother saw him with his pads. She asked what they were, and Djeri confessed to playing football behind her back. She wasn’t pleased. Djeri bargained with her. He had a game on Sunday that week, he told her, and he wanted her to come to it. If she still didn’t like that he was playing, he’d quit. If she liked it, he’d continue.

"I said, ‘Coach, I’m sorry I couldn’t make it better.’ He said, ‘No, take a shower. We’re going to talk after,’" Djeri remembered. "I was in the locker room and I started crying. I said, ‘Damn, I missed it.’ After that, coach came in. He said, ‘Hey, you made it well. We like your get-off.’ I thought I didn’t make it good.

Djeri’s journey to the NFL is just beginning. But the 22-year-old is used to starting from scratch and fighting the odds. Cardinals coach Steve Wilks called him a project. But Djeri has been making strides. After a few weeks on the field, Djeri said the biggest adjustment has been the tempo. That’s to be expected for someone who’s not just new to the NFL but new to the American style of football.

When Djeri got the contract offer from the Cardinals in March, he said he felt like a weight was lifted off of him. It has been 16 years since he first saw a football game, 11 years since he asked to play in Germany and four years since his brother covered for him as he began playing.