NFL career short, not sweet

Luigs enjoying life as salesman, family man

By: Bob Holt
Published: Tuesday, December 25, 2012
Jonathan Luigs, former University of Arkansas football player, won the Rimington Trophy as a Razorback before his NFL career.
Photo by Michael Woods
Jonathan Luigs, former University of Arkansas football player, won the Rimington Trophy as a Razorback before his NFL career.

— Former Arkansas All-America center Jonathan Luigs’ NFL career lasted just one season.

Luigs played eight games for the Cincinnati Bengals as a rookie in 2009, then early in training camp in August 2010 was advised by doctors to give up football after he had undergone surgery on both hips.

Cincinnati waived Luigs, a fourth-round draft pick, when he wasn’t able to go through training camp, but other NFL teams expressed interest in signing him.

Three years later, Luigs hasno regrets about deciding to walk away from pro football.

“Maybe I still could be playing, but what’s that worth?” Luigs, 26, said during a recent interview. “It comes down to, do I want to try and squeeze out a couple more years and see where my career takes me? Or end up being 40 and crippled?

“They [the doctors] told me it would be in my best interest not to play anymore. You can’t put a price tag on health. At that time, I’d had a good time playing football, made a lot of good memories, met a lot of great people.

“So I was ready to walkaway so I can play with my kids and not be in a wheelchair.”

Luigs, who is a regional sales manager for Trane heating and cooling systems, has settled into life in Fayetteville with his wife, Kele, a former Arkansas volleyball player. They have a 4-month-old daughter, Kenzie.

“Hopefully, she’ll be an athlete like her mama,” Luigs said. “It’s a complete life change.

“Obviously, the focus isn’t on yourself anymore. It’s providing for her and making sure everything goes well at home.”

Luigs travels making sales calls, but his territory is in Arkansas.

“I really like what I’m doing now,” he said. “With my personality, I don’t think I could sit behind a desk.

“I get to travel and get out and meet different people. I’m on the road most days, but I’m home pretty much every night.”

Luigs, a former Pulaski Academy standout, began his Arkansas career at guard, but moved to center. He won the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s top center in 2007, blocking for running backs Darren McFadden, Felix Jones and Peyton Hillis, who are still playing in the NFL.

Luigs started his final 49 games with the Razorbacks, ending his college career in 2008. He graduated with a marketing degree in December 2007.

“The relationships I made with my teammates is the biggest thing,” Luigs said looking back on his days as a Razorback. “I’m still connected with a lot of guys.”

Luigs played for the Razorbacks’ 2006 SEC West championship team, but he said his best memory came in 2007, when Arkansas beat No. 1 LSU 51-48 in triple overtime in Baton Rouge.

“It doesn’t get much better than going on the road and beating the No. 1 team in thecountry,” Luigs said. “That’s a game I’ll never forget.”

Luigs said he doesn’t miss playing football as much as the relationships associated with being part of a team.

“Obviously, I miss the locker room. I miss the camaraderie,” he said. “I miss competing. But at the same time, for the longest time all I knew was football, and there are also other things I like to do - spend time with my family, hunt and fish.”

Luigs didn’t receive an injury settlement from the Bengals when he was waived. He said the issue is still in dispute between the NFL Players Association and the Bengals.

Cincinnati is claiming Luigs’ hip injuries were the result of a pre-existing physical condition and that the team isn’t responsible for his decision to end his playing career, while Luigs and the NFLPA contend the injuries resulted from playing for the Bengals.

“I think it would have been settled by now if the lockouthadn’t happened,” said Luigs, referring to last year’s labor dispute between the NFL players and owners. “That pushed everything back.”

Luigs said he has good, if brief, memories of his one season as an NFL player.

“Playing in the NFL was a dream come true for me,” Luigs said. “You never realize how elite the players are until you experience it, going through training camp and then the season. There’s so much pressure on you to perform.

“Obviously, I wish my career was longer. But the fact that I made a 53-man roster and got to play in some games, even for a few snaps and on special teams, it’s something a lot of people can’t say they did.

“I feel I’m part of a fraternity. Not as much as some of the players you see on TV, the stars, but I shared a locker room with some of the best and played with some really good guys.”Jonathan Luigs at a glanceCOLLEGE Arkansas HOMETOWN Little Rock HIGH SCHOOL Pulaski Academy AGE 26 (Born Aug. 11, 1986) EDUCATION Bachelor’s degree, marketing, University of Arkansas FAMILY Wife, Kele; daughter, Kenzie AT ARKANSAS Won the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s top center and was a consensus All-America in 2007 as a redshirt junior for the Razorbacks. Blocked for two-time Doak Walker Award winner Darren McFadden, Felix Jones and Peyton Hillis. Was a Rimington Trophy finalist in 2006 and 2008. Started the last49 games of his Arkansas career, moving to center as a sophomore after playing guard his redshirt freshman season.

IN THE NFL Fourth-round pick (106 overall) by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2009 NFL Draft. Played in eight games as a rookie in what turned out to be his only NFL season. After undergoing surgery on both hips in the off-season, was waived by Cincinnati during training camp in August 2010. Doctors advised him to stop playing football, and Luigs decided not to purse opportunities with other teams.

NOW Lives in Fayetteville and works as a regional sales manager for Trane.

Sports, Pages 15 on 12/26/2012