INDIANAPOLIS – Football has allowed Bjoern Werner to travel the globe, bringing him from Germany to Connecticut to Florida to Indianapolis.
Along the way, Werner has morphed from flag to youth football to a major college program to the NFL.
His selection Thursday by the Colts soon will allow him to make an acquaintance personal rather than electronic.
From ages 12 to 14, Werner picked his favorite players on Madden Playstation, and Dwight Freeney and
“I told the (Colts) coaches I was 12, 13, 14 years old and I played with both of those guys on my (Madden) all-star team,” said Werner. “Just playing with them and having so much fun, I was a young kid.
“Now, I can ask Robert Mathis questions. It’s crazy. I can’t believe that. I can ask him questions. He can teach me stuff, if he’s willing to. I hope he does. I can’t wait to meet him and tell him that story. I respect him so much.”
If Mathis had a long trip to Indianapolis from Huntsville through Alabama A&M, he is about to meet someone who is crossing cultures to be a Colt.
Werner, 22, was introduced to football at age 12 when a sixth-grade classmate brought a ball to school. A sports enthusiast, he enjoyed tossing it and soon was playing flag football for the Berlin Adler on the club level, until something else caught his eye.
“In Germany, everything up to 15 is flag football,” said Werner. “High school age (15-19) it’s youth football. I saw the older guys playing tackle football. I was, ‘I want to do this, but I’m too young.’
“I saw the physicality of the sport. It was so amazing to see grown men tackle each other and it was legal. In soccer it’s not. I was so into football and was starting to play Madden, picking up the game and knowing every team and roster. It was a lot of fun.”
Werner was a fan of NFL Europe and when the league ended, his chance to further himself in the sport came through an International Student Program (started in 2006) that was run under the umbrella of USA Football.
Patrick Steenberge shaped the program that started to place exchange students into the country, and he sized up Werner as a burgeoning talent.
“His ability was evident from the moment you saw him walk onto the field,” said Steenberge. “Our network of coaches told us he had the ability to play at as a high a level as he liked. They were right.”
After playing one year at the Salisbury School in Connecticut, Werner went back to Berlin because of homesickness and the need for tuition money.
With full intentions of returning, he worked on his language skills, studying English with a German instructor.
“When I came back, I was a senior and it was different because I was thinking about college and how I could show (people) I could play at the highest level,” said Werner.
Being in the States also made following the NFL much easier. In Germany, Werner only was able to watch highlights on Monday at 6 a.m. on NFL.com. He could not afford to watch broadcast feeds.
“I didn’t have the money to pay for it. I didn’t have the chance to watch it,” said Werner. “I had to go the on-line way.”
Choosing Florida State, Werner saw his career take flight by starting 27 games in his last two seasons. Those years taught him he could reach the next level.
Werner started watching a number of ends across the league to pick up a wide range of nuances to add to his skill set.
“I watched every defensive end out there,” said Werner. “Every Sunday, I’d watch five games until I got tired of watching football. Just watching those d-ends and trying to pick up things.
“There’s so many great players in the league. I don’t like one guy more than the other. I have so much respect for those people that made it to the NFL and stayed there and played really, really well.”
Inspiration for Werner never came from external sources. His drive came from within.
“I’m not the type of guy that has role models,” said Werner. “My inspiration is myself just trying to prove that if you want something, you can go get it. You have to work hard for it and put that effort in. This is how I’ve lived my last eight years.”
Speaking in Indianapolis on Friday, Werner looked every bit accustomed to American culture. He said he found people in the States friendly.
The natural intrigue with his German accent has been something Werner has accommodated gracefully, though he estimates he falls short with requests to imitate Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“I’m always the joke wherever I go. I accept that role,” said Werner. “At home, I speak with my wife (Denise) in German all the time, so I’m not going to lose that accent. I know here all the people are going to create jokes about me, but I’m the type of guy that I can laugh at myself. I love when people try to do my voice. It doesn’t sound even close, but it sounds funny.
“I always hear Arnold Schwarzenegger thing. I bet the first three days I’m going to have to say all the quotes. It’s just everywhere I go I have to do it, and I’ve kind of got used to it.
“I’m really bad at it. I just can’t get that excitement into it. People get really disappointed when they hear I have an accent, but I can’t say it like Arnold. They get really disappointed.”
A young man who once hoped that NFL Europe would lead to the ultimate dream – a practice squad spot with an NFL team – has moved far past that dream.
He is moving to Indianapolis as fast as possible. The dream has changed, big time.
It will impact his family, too. His parents may see him play for the first time, and Robert Mathis awaits.
“Now that I’m a first-round pick, I can’t describe how crazy that is,” said Werner. “My parents never have seen me play in America. They’ve seen me play back in the day in Berlin. I’ll take care of them now. It’s an awesome time right now.”