Florida State DE Bjoern Werner a star in the making
BY MIKE BERARDINO For Sun-Times Media
Wake Forest v Florida State
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — With each sack and batted pass, Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt isn’t just making a run at NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors.
He also might be making a little extra money for Bjoern Werner.
Werner, Florida State’s All-America defensive end, hasn’t decided whether to enter the NFL draft, where he is projected as a top-10 pick, or come back for his senior season in 2013. But the former German exchange student doesn’t have to look far to find his professional doppelganger.
It’s not New England Patriots offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer, a former second-round pick who is the most prominent German player in the NFL today. It’s Watt, the 11th overall pick out of Wisconsin in 2011.
‘‘I watch him on TV on Sundays when I relax on my couch,’’ Werner said in advance of the Seminoles’ showdown Tuesday against Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl. ‘‘It’s fun watching him play. I really want to play the same way.’’
Werner, whose 13 sacks rank seventh in the nation, fails to suppress a smile when he hears the comparisons to Watt. Both have the long arms and rare timing it takes to disrupt passing lanes, and their absolute refusal to quit on a play distinguishes them, too.
‘‘Yeah, but he’s 6-5, 290,’’ Werner said. ‘‘I’m 6-4, 260. You know what I’m saying? Maybe I play the same style, but that’s an honor for people to compare me to him. He can win the MVP. That’s amazing, what he’s doing.’’
Werner’s rapid rise merits the same description. He arrived in the United States five years ago, playing two seasons at Salisbury (Conn.) Prep. Remarkably raw at the time, he chose Florida State over Oregon, but no one could have foreseen the eventual impact he would have in college.
‘‘He can take in anything you give him, and he can apply it to the game,’’ said D.J. Eliot, who coaches the Seminoles’ defensive ends. ‘‘He never ceases to amaze me on how much he can improve.’’
And it all started with a friend named Mirko.
Like most German kids, Werner grew up playing soccer. What little he knew about U.S. football came from playing video games.
‘‘Ray Lewis,’’ Werner said. ‘‘I always played Madden with him.’’
One day during recess, Werner noticed the ‘‘weird guys’’ playing football.
‘‘I was like, ‘What are they doing over there? Maybe I should check it out,’ ’’ Werner said. ‘‘I tossed the ball around a little, and it was a lot of fun. And then the guy [Mirko] asked me, ‘You want to join the club team?’ ’’
Werner, already big for his age at 8, stuck with club football for seven years until Joerg Hofmann, his coach at Berlin Adler, helped place him in the United States.
And whatever happened to Mirko?
‘‘I don’t even talk to him anymore,’’ Werner says. ‘‘Kind of sad.’’
The player whose image graces the side of Florida State’s buses this week smiles and adds a message for the childhood pal who launched a football phenomenon.
‘‘Good job, Mirko.’’