Andrew Luck stunned the NFL world two weeks ago, abruptly announcing his retirement at the age of 29.

Kyle Emanuel understood the Indianapolis quarterback’s dilemma.

“I empathize with him completely,” said Emanuel, who played linebacker the past four seasons for the Chargers. “He had it worse off than me where he had such a rehab cycle. Fortunately, I probably didn’t have to rehab as much as he did.

“I get it, this game is hard. It’s hard physically. Everyone kind of sees the money and the fame, but there’s so much more to it. Andrew realized that, and I did as well.”

Emanuel, a Schuyler graduate who became a defensive star for FCS powerhouse North Dakota State, announced his retirement from the NFL on April 4 at the age of 27.

A fifth-round draft pick in 2015, Emanuel started 32 games for the Chargers over four seasons, including seven a year ago, and didn’t miss a game the past three years. He made 147 tackles in his career.

But as he hit free agency over the offseason, he evaluated his situation.

“The older you get, the more you think about the quality of life you’ll have after football,” Emanuel said last week. “I was kind of worn out a little mentally. Physically, I’ve dealt with some injuries. I’ve had a number of concussions in my career. With both of those sides factoring in, it was time.”

Retirement wasn’t a certainty. After the Chargers lost to New England in the AFC divisional playoffs, Emanuel continued to train and said there were days he thought he’d continue to play as other teams were interested in signing him.

But retiring at 27 won out. If he wasn’t going to be all-in, he said he didn’t want to cheat himself or the team that signed him.

“I think you heard it from Andrew Luck. It was easily the hardest decision I ever had to make. Hands down the hardest decision,” Emanuel said. “Football has been the biggest part in my life basically since I’ve been in college. It’s formed a lot of the things I have in my life.”

Emanuel carved out a role right from the start with the Chargers. During his rookie debut, he finished with an interception and a sack in a win over Detroit. Last year when the Chargers went 12-4, he returned a fumble 18 yards for a touchdown in the regular-season finale against Denver.

Even though he established himself in the league, Emanuel said he never planned to have a lengthy NFL career.

“I told myself I wouldn’t play past 30 with the position I was playing, being a linebacker and a special teams guy,” he said. “Every single play is physical and there’s contact on every single play.”

Still, while taking his long-term health into consideration, walking away from the game isn’t easy. Emanuel couldn’t even watch preseason games on television. It was too soon.

“That’s still a little weird for me, not to be involved in that,” he said.

Instead of toiling in training camp, he’s found other ways to spend his summer. In the middle of August, he hiked and camped for a week in Montana. When he was in Schuyler last month, he stopped by the high school’s football practice to encourage this year’s team.

He isn’t playing, but he remains involved in the sport. This fall he’s working as an analyst on the television and radio broadcasts for North Dakota State football.

He’ll find throughout the fall how much he enjoys it. Right now, everything is in transition.

“I’m trying to figure out what I want to do with my life now,” he said. “I’m still very much in the process of figuring things out and what ultimately makes me happy.”

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Gene covers a variety of sports beats for The World-Herald. Follow him on Twitter @geneOWH. Phone: 402-444-1038.

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