RALEIGH — N.C. State's Markus Kuhn often causes confusion when he's with teammate and best friend J.R. Sweezy.
"People mistake us for brothers all the time," Sweezy said, smiling.
That's understandable. Kuhn is 6 feet 4 and 295 pounds, and Sweezy is listed at 6-5 and 293. Put them together and they can fill up a room, looking the part of UFC heavyweights.
Both are redshirt seniors. When the Pack opens its season Sept. 3 against Liberty, the two could be State's starters at defensive tackle, anchoring a unit that could be among the ACC's best.
"That's what we want this season - to play, have fun and get it done," Sweezy said.
Sweezy is a team co-captain and an All-ACC candidate. The former Mooresville High star started 12 games last season, led the Pack with six sacks and was second in tackles for a loss with 13. He's a handful for any offensive lineman.
But Kuhn, a backup last year who has just three career starts, can't be overlooked. NCSU coach Tom O'Brien said Kuhn may have improved more than anyone on the team over the past year, high praise from the top.
"Both of them had great offseasons and are in great shape," defensive coordinator Mike Archer said. "When you're seniors and you're in great shape, you set a pace, and now our young guys understand how fast you have to play.
"And Markus, in particular, the times he ran at our (NFL) Pro Day in the spring, for his size ... he actually got faster, which rarely happens."
A case of culture shock
Kuhn said he was timed at 4.88 seconds in the 40-yard sprint, and at more than 300 pounds.
"Strength wise, speed wise, I should be in the best shape I've ever been," Kuhn said.
Most know of Kuhn's unusual story, of how he and his father, Wolfgang, came to the U.S. from Germany in 2006, visiting colleges, looking for a place to play. Kuhn didn't have a recruiting resume. He had size and a DVD of football highlights, and the Pack signed him to a scholarship in February 2007.
"Me and my dad, we didn't realize how big college football was before we came," Kuhn said. "I looked at the stadium and it was like, 'Wow, there are 60,000 people who will watch us play.' It was unbelievable.
"I now understand the importance of it. Still, when I tell people in Germany about it, they don't understand how big it is or all the things that go into it: the practices, the weight training, how high the overall talent level is here."
Kuhn, 25, is older than most college seniors. But nearly all of his teammates had a sizable head start in the sport.
Sweezy, 21, grew up with football. He said his grandfather, Roger Sweezy, was a fullback and linebacker for the Wolfpack.
"I played pee-wee football when I was six, maybe younger," Sweezy said. "My dad bought me a full-face face mask and I thought it looked cool."
Raised in Weinheim, Germany, Kuhn played on club teams and was always one of the biggest kids, dominating with his strength and relying little on fundamentals. In Germany, tackle football is not allowed until a player is 15.
"It's pretty crazy," Sweezy said. "It was just a club sport, and coming here it was a huge challenge for him just learning the basic principles of football. He was behind and it's kind of surprising he has caught up this far."
Kuhn said he often wonders what might have been had he been a part of organized football at five or six.
"How much better would I have been?" he said. "But it is what it is. I can't change it."
While Sweezy redshirted as a freshman at NCSU, Kuhn used his redshirt in the 2009 season. He often banged heads in practice with center Ted Larsen, now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and honed his techniques.
"He didn't have the time to develop the way he should and learn the game the way he should," O'Brien said. "I think that redshirt year helped him a lot."
Kuhn has a degree in business administration. But football is part of his continuing education.
"I came here 4 1/2 years ago with a dream to play American football," he said. "I've learned a lot. Overall it's been a wonderful growing-up experience.
"It's my last opportunity and I want to make the best out of it. I have a really good feeling about it."
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