Home Uncategorized Rockford-area athlete heads back to Europe to chase another pro football title – Rockford Register Star

Rockford-area athlete heads back to Europe to chase another pro football title – Rockford Register Star

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Rockford-area athlete heads back to Europe to chase another pro football title – Rockford Register Star

MACHESNEY PARK — After winning three championships in three different countries in less than 13 months, A.J. Wentland thought he had done all he could do in his professional football career.
“Honestly after those three championships in a row,” said one of the most prolific tacklers to ever come out of the Rockford area, “I’m thinking about being done and retiring.”
The former Harlem star — who will be inducted into the Harlem Wall of Fame on Feb. 11 — was even starting to pursue a career in coaching and personal training and living in Machesney Park with his girlfriend Louise, who he met while playing in Germany.
But then, he said, an opportunity that he couldn’t pass up came his way. He was offered the best deal of his life to play for the Leipzig Kings (Germany) in the European League of Football.
More Wentland:Former Harlem football star A.J. Wentland taking his pro football career to Austria
So for at least one more season, Wentland continues his world tour of pro football.
“I know that I still feel good, and I was motivated to have a full offseason to really work it out,” said Wentland, 27, who has already played pro football in four different countries, but could add three more to the list this season. “And this new league just got me going again. … This was it. This was right.”
Wentland, now a 6-foot-4, 235-pounder, led the NIC-10 in tackles in 2013, then broke the McKendree single-season tackling record over the next three straight seasons. Choosing an international career, he kickstarted things by setting the league record for stops in a single season in his first year as a pro in 2018 in the German Football League, and led the league in tackles his second season, as well.
More Wentland:A.J. Wentland bolts from Germany to Finland to keep football season alive
But it wasn’t until the summer of 2020 when he would get his first championship of any kind — and he would kickstart his run of three straight titles.
“Once you get one,” said Wentland, a two-time first-team all-NIC-10 linebacker, but never a NIC-10 champ, “you definitely want more.”
Wentland bolted Germany for Finland after the GFL canceled its 2020 season because of the pandemic, and there he helped the Kuopio Steelers claim their first Maple League title on Sept. 12, 2020. He missed the first two games and was still second in the league in tackles per game.
He learned shortly after that title game that he had ruptured the MCL in his right knee. He returned to Germany for surgery, during which they put in four screws, then returned home to Machesney Park for rehab. But as soon as he was cleared to return four months later, he signed on to play in the seven-team Austrian Football League with the Swarco Raiders of Tirol in Innsbruck, Austria.
“It may have been a little too soon,” he said. “But I wanted it.”
He played in six games, had some setbacks because of the knee injury, but was a key cog to Austrian Football League title run, that ended on July 31, 2021.
“The championships were rolling in,” he said. “And I wasn’t done.”
He flew back to the United States, relaxed for a couple of months in Machesney Park, and got a call from his old team, the Dresden Monarchs, who wanted him back. He flew back to Germany, played in four games and helped the Monarchs secure their first German Bowl championship on Oct. 9, 2021.
When Wentland got back home from all of that, he thought that could be it for his football career.
“That was quite a run,” he said. “And I kept saying ‘This will be my last.’ But you never know.”
Wentland was training in Machesney Park, working as a personal trainer at Anytime Fitness, and doing some online coaching clinics to try and kickstart that part of his career. He had offers, but nothing that was enticing enough to reel him right back into the game.
But then the Kings called, and Wentland liked what he saw from this new league. The new attempt at an NFL Europe, the ELF already had 12 teams and was growing fast.
“It kind of gave me a reason to say ‘Hey, let’s do this again,'” he said. “This was the league’s second season, and the first one went really well. I just loved the idea of helping to build something up like this.
“And they wanted me.”
And why not. He’s been a tackling machine everywhere he’s gone.
At Harlem, he finished as the best tackler in the league. In Germany, he set records, and continued to lead the league. While in Finland, he hauled in 23 tackles in three games and added 13 1/2 tackles in the playoffs. In Austria, he quickly found his role, and was once again one of the surest tacklers in the league.
So as he prepares to play in his fifth pro football season in his third country in May, how much longer does Wentland think he can play at such a high level?
“Well, at least for this year,” he answered. “I was telling myself during the last season with Dresden, and when I won my third championship, I was like ‘I think that’s about it.’ But they say this is now the best league in Europe, and I want my shot at it.
“And I still have what it takes.”
When: Feb. 11, between the JV and varsity boys basketball games against Freeport
Where: Harlem High School, main gym
Who will be inducted: 2013 graduate A.J. Wentland (football);  the 2013-2014 girls soccer team; 2016 graduate McKaela Schmelzer (all-around athlete); 2015 graduate Emily Scott (girls soccer); 2014 graduate Alyssa Sickler (girls soccer)
Jay Taft: jtaft@rrstar.com; @JayTaft

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