BEMIDJI, Minn. -- Gena Adams and Lukas Ruoss have never played a down of football on the same field. Yet these two Bemidji State University alumni have traveled kismet paths in Germany to build football families and achieve dreams on the gridiron.
Both athletes would have no idea that in less than three years into their professional football careers they would win a league championship and earn opportunities to showcase talents in front of National Football League and Canadian Football League evaluators.
Adams, a Russian citizen, and Ruoss, a native of Switzerland, each came to Bemidji State after playing two collegiate seasons elsewhere in North America. The duo finished their BSU careers three years apart, Adams in 2016 and Ruoss in 2019, before nearly crossing paths again in Germany with the Potsdam Royals football team.
“(Lukas and I) have been in contact over the years,” Adams said. “He asked me about what it’s like playing in Germany and I gave him my experiences. I’ve kept up with his games since he plays for my former team.”
“I reached out to Gena for the first time in 2020 at the point Potsdam reached out to me,” Ruoss said. “Since then, we talked a couple of times but never met in person. It’s great to see other Beavers chase a football career so it’s nice to have someone to reach out to.”
A 2016 All-Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference North Division All-Conference First Team selection, Adams began his post-collegiate playing career in 2019 with Potsdam, an American football team in the German Football League. While Adams was earning a nod to the league’s North All-Star Team during his first season, Ruoss was finishing up his collegiate career with the Beavers.
After his final game at Bemidji State in November 2019, Ruoss went on to play at the College Gridiron Showcase senior bowl in hopes to continue his career in the NFL or CFL. Although the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt on Ruoss’ North American league opportunities, for now, his football career was set to continue with a contract with Potsdam.
“I had signed with Potsdam because I had a clause in my contract that I can opt out if I get a shot from the CFL,” Ruoss said. “The GFL then also got canceled so I ended up staying the year in Switzerland.”
The anticipation for Ruoss to get his start with Potsdam and the budding career of Adams were put on hold.
“I was really excited to play in 2020 and three days before my flight to Frankfurt the global lockdowns started hitting so I never left,” Adams said. “The team (Frankfurt Galaxy) we had in 2020 I think would have been the best in league history. It was unfortunate that season couldn’t happen.”
When the opportunity to hit the field became available again in 2021, both took full advantage. Ruoss joined the Potsdam Royals for his first season of professional football in 2021 just as Adams finally started his career with the Frankfurt Galaxy in its first season as part of the newly formed European League of Football.
As Adams’ season was just getting started, a roadblock emerged as he broke his L3 and L4 vertebrae in addition to a partially torn ligament and small fracture in his ankle during the Galaxy’s second game of the year.
“I didn’t do much physical activity or stretching for about six weeks,” Adams said. “After that I got back into running slowly and doing football moves, but we had to be cautious not to reaggravate the injury.”
After missing five games, Adams returned from the injury without skipping a beat and finished seventh in the league in rushing yards. The biggest feat for Adams, though, was helping the Galaxy to win the first ever championship in the European League of Football on September 26.
“It feels absolutely amazing winning the championship,” Adams said. “The way we did it just shows the type of resilience our team has and how much trust and faith we have in each other to not crumble under pressure.”
The resiliency of the Galaxy was proven after overcoming a 10-point deficit, sparked by a 43-yard touchdown reception by Adams for the team’s first touchdown in the inaugural ELF championship game. Adams also added a two-point conversion in a game that featured six lead changes.
It was one day earlier and 246 miles away that Ruoss was helping the Royals to a first of its own. A team captain in his first season with the team, Ruoss and the Royals went on to finish the season 8-4 following a loss of 28-18 in the GFL semifinals to the undefeated Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns.
The postseason appearance was an achievement for the Royals, its first trip to the playoffs since joining the GFL North in 2018.
“It was an honor being named team captain and then writing team history by making it to the playoffs for the first time in club history,” Ruoss said.
On an individual level, Ruoss had another opportunity that could hold more importance than the postseason appearance. He received his third invitation in the past two years to participate in a professional league combine, this time at the NFL International Combine held on October 12 in London. Nearly 50 athletes from 14 countries are selected to participate in front of NFL evaluators at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
“It’s an honor to receive the invite but I’m not satisfied with just the invitation. That’s just the beginning,” Ruoss said. “Getting a chance in the NFL would be a dream come true so I will do everything in my power to achieve that goal.”
The International Combine is the first step in the process towards participation in the International Player Pathway program, which includes a three-month training period in the United States. In its third iteration of the NFL International Combine, only a handful of prospective athletes will ultimately be allocated to NFL clubs for the 2022 season.
While Ruoss’ dream to play in the NFL is on the horizon, Adams has been living his dream in Germany to build an American football family.
“Personally, I just love this game,” Adams said. “It’s always been about the love of the game and making a comfortable living, and in Germany, I’ve been able to do that. I’ve met people who are now as close as family and will forever be close to me, which is my favorite part of football: Creating family bonds with the guys you go to war with.”
Beaver Football can call itself lucky to have Gena Adams and Lukas Ruoss as members of its family.
Nestled in Northern Minnesota’s wooded region and located on the shore of Lake Bemidji, Bemidji State University sponsors 15 varsity athletic programs with NCAA Division I men’s and women’s hockey membership in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, while its 13 NCAA Division II programs hold membership in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC).