The German All-American
Bjoern Werner eager to help football become mainstream in home country
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Chatting with the media has never been Bjoern Werner's favorite part of his job at Florida State, but as his postseason awards and honors accumulated this month, he couldn't help but be amused by the interview requests.
The local media was interested, and with a bevy of All-American honors, he was gaining national attention. But it was the phone calls from home, from reporters speaking German with only a remedial understanding of the sport he's dominated, that caught Werner's attention.
"It's funny," Werner said, "but I'm trying to spread it around. I'm trying to make [football] bigger in Germany."Werner's homeland used to provide a respite from all the attention he gets around Tallahassee, but his stellar season in 2012 and surging interest from the NFL have burnished his reputation in Germany, and he's hoping to make the most of the opportunity.[+] EnlargeAP Photo/Gray QuettiBjoern Werner's stellar season has made him a likely first-round draft choice, which would be the first for a player from Germany.
By Werner's estimates, there are about 100,000 Germans playing some variation of American football, but that's just a small fraction of the audience for soccer. What Werner's done in the past five years -- travel to the United States, earn a scholarship, blossom into a starter, generate NFL buzz -- is not unprecedented for a German, but it's close.
Offensive lineman Sebastian Vollmer was taken by the New England Patriots out of Houston in the second round of the 2009 draft and is now a starter in the NFL. Former NC State defensive tackle Markus Kuhn was taken by the New York Giants in the seventh round of the 2012 draft and has seen sporadic play as a rookie this season.
"Those are the two active -- and ever drafted -- Germans," Werner said.
Werner began playing flag football before joining a club team in Germany, and he paid close attention to everything his coaches taught him, but he had few traditional role models growing up.
He played video games, and like every football fan he knew, he loved Ray Lewis. Beyond that, Werner largely blazed his own path.
"I always looked at like, 'I want to do that,' " Werner said. "But there was never one guy that I was like, 'I want to meet him so bad.' "
Still, Werner had a dream. It just happened to be something of an unusual one for a German.
After three years of playing club football in Germany, Werner came to the U.S. and wrapped up his high school career in Connecticut. He was the biggest player on the team, and his talent was obvious, but his limited pedigree was clear, too.
"You had to tell him where to line up -- this is a seven technique, don't move, go through this gap," said Will Tye, Werner's teammate in high school and at Florida State. "You could see [the potential], but it would go away. But you knew it was there. You were just waiting to be shown."
Werner's game needed refinement, but he never missed a chance to get better.
For the past five years, he and Tye have been regular workout partners, lifting weights, studying film, perfecting technique. Tye has never met anyone as motivated to succeed.
"He has to grab me [to work out] sometimes," Tye said. "I never had to grab him, though."
Five years after Werner played his first game on American soil, there's no more waiting to see his full potential. Werner dominated this season, racking up 13 sacks -- tops in the country. His 18 tackles for loss ranked 16th overall. FSU coach Jimbo Fisher gushed that the best aspects of Werner's game rarely showed up on the stat sheet. He was a consensus Associated Press All-American, which is more that just a bit ironic, Werner said.
"I'm a German All-American," he joked. "How awesome is that?"
It's just the start.
According to numerous draft projections, Werner is a likely top-10 pick if he decides to depart FSU following the season. There's a chance he'd be the highest-drafted Seminole ever -- that honor belongs to Andre Wadsworth, who was picked No. 3 overall in 1998 -- but it's a virtual certainty he'd be the most prominent German in the draft's history.
Werner said he's already made his decision on whether he'll stay for his senior year or head to the draft, and all signs point toward a departure. The NFL, after all, was Werner's dream when he first began playing the game, and he knows how blessed he is to have the opportunity to reach that plateau.
"Going that way is so hard, and you need opportunities," Werner said. "You need people to give you opportunities. So many people in my life have opened doors for me. They gave me an opportunity, and I took it. Hopefully I'll have a nice NFL career where my name is so big that I can start opening the pipeline, where I can give back."
As unique as Werner's story is, he knows he wasn't the only one in Germany with a dream of reaching the NFL. He was the one lucky enough to have the opportunity to make that dream come true.
"There are so many other kids back in Germany who were 15, 16 when I decided to come over, and they had the same dream," he said. "But somebody's going to have to make it happen and hopefully I can change that a little bit by having a nice NFL career."
So now, as he stands ready to become the most famous German football player ever, he's hoping his influence can be used to ensure more kids from his home country follow his path. He's a role model, yes, but he's also a salesman. He wants Germans to know what American football can offer.
Werner answers the calls from the German media, eager to talk about the game he loves. He's a German All-American, the first of his kind, and that's a role he's happy to embrace.
"That's pretty cool," Werner said. "I mean, how many people can say that? I'm not going to take it for granted. I'm going to really try to give back."
MORE COLLEGE FOOTBALL HEADLINES
- FSU's Fisher: 'We're not defending anything'
- Sources: No penalty for reversed targeting call
- Missouri rewards Pinkel with bump to $3.1M
- Heisman RBs Salaam, Williams on Hall ballot
MOST SENT STORIES ON ESPN.COM
TIME TO GO BOWLING