Growing up in nearby Lisle, Ill., former North Central College safety Josh McLeod '12 dreamed of playing professional football. Unlike many of his peers, McLeod achieved his dreams this summer, taking an unconventional route to the pro ranks by signing a contract with the Frankfurt Universe of the German Football League (GFL).
"My dream and goal since I was in junior high was to play pro football," said McLeod. I never thought it would be overseas, though."
McLeod finished a stellar three-year career with the Cardinals in 2011 and served as a captain his senior season. He was a three-time First Team All-CCIW selection and is second all-time in North Central history in interceptions with 13.
After completing his final season at North Central, McLeod registered on Europlayers.com, a website that provides exposure for players looking to play football in Europe. Despite talking with a couple teams, it wasn't until former North Central College assistant football coach Matt Foster got in touch with a friend who coaches overseas that McLeod finally broke through and signed with the Universe for the 2012 summer season.
McLeod signed a typical contract for an American in the GFL, which included a round-trip flight to Frankfurt, fully furnished apartment, health insurance, gym membership, a few meals per week, small stipend and access to a car, which he shared with three other Americans on the team. Despite being a paid member of the team, this was hardly the norm for the Universe. Native Germans, most of whom were in their late 20s and early 30s, were not paid and all held full-time jobs.
After arriving in Germany in June, McLeod made an immediate impact with the Universe and was able to fit in with teammates early on.
"They gave me the nickname 'Nightmare' for two reasons," he said. "One was to intimidate the opponents because they saw my highlights from NCC and knew I can hit some people. And the other was because my home address in Lisle is on Elm Street, a name they connected to the movie 'Nightmare on Elm Street.'"
Once McLeod got on the playing field, he lived up to his new nickname. Despite missing the first four games of the season, he finished third on the team in tackles and tied for the team lead with four interceptions. In his second-to-last game of the season against the Frankfurt Pirates, McLeod picked off three passes and returned one for 62 yards and a touchdown.
"The biggest football adjustment was having to play a more prominent role on the team," McLeod said. "At North Central, I played safety and sparingly on special teams, but for the Universe I played on all special teams, including field goals. I had to help support the run more (on defense), which I really enjoyed. The speed was slower than I was used to and equivalent to a lower- to mid-level Division III school."
The language barrier was something McLeod didn't have to worry about because many of his teammates began speaking English in third grade. McLeod appreciated how well he was treated by both the Universe fans and his teammates, who dropped everything to help him out and became great friends off the field, with some planning to visit the United States next spring.
"I'd recommend playing abroad to really anyone, but especially to people interested in history and traveling. There are still several places I'd love to travel to if I went back, like Prague, Munich and Athens."
McLeod says his experience in Europe was unforgettable and he enjoyed traveling around Germany by train and booked a flight to Rome in his free time. He has expressed interest in going back to the Universe for next season, if given the opportunity. McLeod graduated from North Central in June with a degree in elementary education.