Bryan Strickland Senior Writer
Charlotte, NC March 15, 2013 – The game of soccer has produced many quality NFL players, but few quite like Bjoern Werner.
While countless NFL placekickers have a soccer background, Werner is a soccer player turned menacing defensive end.
More remarkably than that, he’s set to become a high NFL draft pick after having hailed from a country where the term “football” actually refers to the sport of soccer.
“It’s a great journey. So exciting,” said Werner, a native of Germany who started playing soccer at age 6 before taking up football six years later. “It’s amazing to be here and go through all this.
“I made a lot of sacrifice. I left my country, my family, my girlfriend – she’s my wife today – just to be here and pursue this dream.”
Werner’s dream will come true April 25, when the Florida State product is expected to be selected in the first round of the NFL Draft. Not bad for a guy whose first exposure to the game came through flag football and the Madden video game.
“In sixth grade there was a classmate who threw around the football, and I just started throwing around with him,” Werner said. “He saw I had some catching skills, so he asked me to join his club team, the Berlin Adler, and I did. I just fell in love with flag football, but when you turn 15 you automatically advance to tackle football, and hitting people was just the most amazing feeling.
“Playing soccer and being a big guy, I was always getting, ‘Take that big guy out of the soccer game cause he’s hurting people.’ And then when I got to play football, it was such a man’s sport where you line up against another guy and see who’s going to be the stronger guy.”
From the beginning, Werner usually was the stronger guy.
In high school, Werner impressed enough that he was among the half-dozen or so Germans selected annually for a youth football international program that pays for prep school in the United States. Werner excelled at Salisbury (Conn.) School and began to attract the attention of college recruiters, eventually chasing Florida State over Oregon.
The 6-3, 266-pounder was physically mature enough to see action in every game as a true freshman in 2010. He became a regular starter in 2011 and then a star in 2012, ranking third in the nation with 13 sacks and helping the Seminoles defense rank in the top six nationally in nearly every major statistical category.
“I had individual goals and I had team goals. I achieved both of them,” said Werner, who helped Florida State win the ACC Championship Game at Bank of America Stadium as well as the Orange Bowl last season. “And I have a wife in college, so everything was just pointing toward leaving. I gave Florida State everything I had for great three years, and it was just time to move on for me and my family.”
And it’s been quite a moving experience for Werner, from soccer to flag football to following the NFL from afar to now.
“Of course I always believed in the dream I wanted to play in the NFL, but I was a little kid,” he said. “Good thing I never looked back or questioned myself and just took the opportunities I had.”