It’s not an industry secret: having good players makes you a better coach. Joe Scelfo gets that.
So, when he started as New Mexico’s tight ends coach in January, Scelfo had to find those players. Temple transfer Magnus Geers was on the list. In a word, raw. But the technique, motor, size, speed all the things you can’t coach? Watch the tape. It’s all there.
But he just could not get in touch with him. Calls kept going to voicemail. After two or three days of trying, Scelfo fired off a text.
“I reached back out to him like, ‘why do you keep ignoring my calls lol.’ Just to mess with him, you know,” Scelfo said. “He’s like, ‘coach, I’m in Switzerland.'”
Geers is the first Swiss born player in Football Bowl Subdivision history. That in and of itself is enough for intrigue.
But there’s far more to Geers than the title.
Geers was born in Zurich, Switzerland to Christian and Inga Geers, the youngest of three children. By his own account, he was just a normal kid in Switzerland, raised in a household wholly unfazed by failure.
“(The) love and support that I had growing up motivated me to take risks early on and gave me the comfort in failing, which is, I think, extremely important,” Geers said. “Failing was never something bad.”
And like a lot of younger brothers, Geers wanted to do everything his older brother, Johannes, did. Johannes played soccer, so Geers played soccer. Johannes rowed, so Geers rowed.
Johannes did gymnastics – so there was Geers, already growing into his now 6-foot-6, 245 pound frame, towering over every other gymnast around him.
“They figured out that I’m a little too big for gymnastics,” he laughed.
Then, sometime in 2017, Geers stumbled across it.: A YouTube video of IMG Academy’s football team, the private boarding school over 600-plus acres of immaculately groomed campus in Bradenton, Florida, synonymous with nationally dominant prep basketball, soccer and football teams.
Geers undoubtedly watched five-star and four-star recruits. But the game itself stole the show. While soccer could be a slow burn, football was fast-paced in its segments. Every play told a story. And Geers loved the physicality, a seemingly perfect outlet for his natural size and speed.
Still on YouTube, Geers devoured episodes of NFL Film Session, a series where professionals break down scheme and the nuances of the game. Man coverage. Inside zone. Pin and pulls.
One day, he knew nothing. The next, he couldn’t stop thinking about it all. To this day, it’s hard to explain.
“I was just obsessed with it,” he said. “I was just so interested in those little details that I sat in my room, took notes and learned the sport.”
This led to an idea. At the time, Geers spoke Swiss German, his native tongue, and French. He and his siblings had always been encouraged to learn different languages by their parents.
The pitch, in essence: what better way to learn English than going to America … and checking out a place like, say, IMG?
Coming to America
Geers’ father was all for it. In February 2018, Geers flew from Zurich to Florida and arrived at IMG for a two-week visit. He stayed in the dorms.
“I didn’t speak any English besides ‘how are you doing,’ ‘I’m doing well,’ ‘hello,’ ‘hi,'” he said. “And everything else was Google Translate and sign language, mostly.”
At its core, this was an elongated tryout, a break-room hypothetical sprung to life: what would happen if somebody who had never played a down of organized football tried to play with some of the best prep players in the country?
As a quarterback, no less?
Geers knows the answer because, well, he lived it. At the end of his two weeks in Bradenton, he approached then-IMG head coach Kevin Wright and asked him for the flat-out truth, no sugarcoating:
Is there a future here? In football?
“He said, ‘Magnus, because you asked (for) my honest opinion, I really don’t think that you have a shot, in any division, of pursuing football,'” Geers remembered. “‘You’re from Switzerland. You’re raw. You don’t have any instincts.'”
At the time, that was the truth.
“I saw those kids that went to IMG and they were playing football and I was like, I’m not that far off,'” Geers said. “I was, but in my head, I wasn’t.”
He went back to Switzerland, a stack of notes and a handful of drills to show for his two weeks at IMG. This probably would’ve been the easiest possible time to pack it up.
Instead, Geers dug in deeper. He recorded himself running routes in his backyard, comparing himself to the same pros he watched on YouTube. Scoured those same notes from IMG. If he got another shot, he’d find a way to make it work.
Six months after his first visit, Geers went back to IMG for a longer tryout. His English was better. His performance, this time as a tight end, was, too.
Its coaches “called my parents every single day,” Geers said, “trying to get me to come to IMG.”
His parents had another, maybe more reasonable plan: finish school in Switzerland and do what you want after. Geers did just that over the course of a year, football not totally on the back-burner, but his studies the clear priority.
At the end of it, there was another clear reality to confront. Geers was not going to play college football at any level without more seasoning at the prep level. A gap year or some level of postgraduate experience was needed.
So, Geers came back to the U.S., and moved in with his aunt and uncle, Margery and Torsten Geers, outside Philadelphia. He “self-recruited” himself to La Salle College High School, an all-boys private school in Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania and was admitted.
A new school is one thing. An entirely new way of education, from how classes were structured to the standardized testing to college applications, is another.
Then, football. Geers slotted in as a scout team defensive end and tight end, going up against kids that had played the majority of their lives.
“I basically just got a one-way ticket, shooting my shot, never really doubting myself. But looking back, why wouldn’t I doubt myself?” Geers laughed.
Chris Myers coaches offensive line at La Salle. He remembered hearing about a Swiss kid coming in but didn’t know too much about him before practice rolled around.
“My guys were going up against him every day,” Myers remembered, “and he was just demolishing my offensive tackles.”
Geers was winning pursuit drills, outhustling and outhitting the learning curve day in and day out. Keep in mind, this was not a simple effort to get more playing time — Geers was ineligible to play in games. All he could do was practice.
Myers played 10 years in the NFL with the Denver Broncos and Houston Texans. He won a national championship with Miami as a reserve lineman. Ohio State linebacker Cie Martin comes off the edge any softer in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl and he might have had another as a starter.
“I have never seen anything like what Magnus forged for himself,” said Myers, who took Geers under his wing, extending an open invitation to his home.
And by the end of his year at La Salle, Geers had preferred walk-on offers from ACC and Ivy League schools. He decided to stay close to his second home and accepted one from Temple.
COVID-19 hit, so Geers worked in Myers’ backyard for hours on routes and with a JUGS machine. Then, he got to campus and became all too familiar with the walk-on lifestyle, preferred or not.
“When someone was on the sideline and it was his turn, but he was kind of sleeping or fixing his helmet, I would run in and steal his rep,” Geers said of this period. “Because for me, every single rep mattered so much to me – even though I got yelled at for that, I didn’t care.”
Geers worked in the shadows for two lonely seasons. Temple fired head coach Rod Carey on Nov. 29, 2021. Stan Drayton replaced Carey on December 15, 2021 and almost overnight, Geers had a blank slate.
Things turned that spring. Geers broke through and carved out a role on special teams and in the tight end rotation. That 2022 season, he appeared in six games, a nearly unthinkable reality given where he started.
“I couldn’t comprehend how fast things changed,” he said. “They actually looked at me as a legit player. That switch in my head was so difficult to comprehend, because what I worked for finally came to fruition in a way.”
Coming to UNM
It was time for another change, though. Geers entered the portal, citing unsafe conditions around Temple’s campus. He went back home to Switzerland.
A couple weeks later, he finally got on a call with Scelfo, himself a former transfer, via FaceTime Audio around 10 p.m. Central European Standard time. There was an almost instant bond.
“I had that empathy with him to say, like, ‘change is not always easy,” Scelfo said. “‘Change is hard. And I can empathize with you, because I felt the same feeling of walking into a locker room and not knowing a single person.'”
In a process that had to move fast to work for both parties, they talked daily. The same honesty Geers looked for at the start of his journey at IMG, he found in Scelfo.
For his official visit, Geers flew a combined 14½ hours from Zurich to Newark, N.J. to Denver, before finally touching down in Albuquerque for his official visit at UNM. It didn’t take long for things to feel right.
“That’s when I called my dad,” Geers said, “and was like, ‘hey, I think I will stay here — this is it.'”
Geers has now been in New Mexico just over two months, his first spring session with the Lobos and an offense that heavily features tight ends wrapped up in the last couple of weeks.
UNM offensive coordinatory Bryant Vincent “said that the offense is only going to be as good as the tight ends can be,” he said. “That motivates us as a tight end room to go even harder and to push ourselves.”
The learning curve isn’t as dire as it used to be but with only four years of football under his belt, its shape is harder to miss than not. Scelfo has told him he’s still got a long way to go, only longer if he focuses on it too much.
“I think with Magnus, it’s just instilling him to play free, to play like nobody’s watching you,” Scelfo said. “Don’t play like you came across the world to play. Then you’re putting so much pressure on yourself.
“Just relax. It’s just football. A lot of times I’ll walk up to him: ‘They can only play with 11. Why are you so worried about it?'”
Geers lives with linebackers Dion Hunter, Milhalis Santorineos and Dimitri Johnson. He still watches YouTube to study his favorite tight ends: Rob Gronkowski, Mike Gesicki and Mark Andrews.
He doesn’t skip spring break like he did at Temple as he tried to work ahead, using the most recent one to visit Myers back in Philly. Nor does he have to steal reps anymore.
Everything ahead is undetermined. In some ways, Geers has already made it. He’s the first recorded Swiss born player in FBS history. Nothing can change that.
He wants far more, though.
“I think the better I do, the more people are going to have the opportunity to showcase what they can do and pursue the same path that I’ve been on,” he said. “And that’s one of my why’s. It’s a part of the chip on my shoulder. I have to do good in order to get more kids from Europe, not just Switzerland, a chance to come here and earn the trust of coaches that they can be a difference-maker on a team.”