Few players in the history of Florida State University have captured the hearts and imaginations of Seminoles fans quite like junior defensive end Bjoern Werner.
In just three years the German-born pass-rusher has gone from a highly touted recruit to one of the top NFL prospects in the country.
Werner (pronounced Ver-nurr), has been the subject of memes, has been dubbed ‘Von Striker’ (complete with an explosive sound-effects package) by Tallahassee sports-talk radio and even has his face plastered along the side of the bus that Florida State is riding around Fort Lauderdale in the days leading up to the Orange Bowl.
In America, specifically in Tallahassee, Werner is something of a pseudo-celebrity. But in his native Germany, Werner still feels he has plenty to accomplish.
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“Aside from the 100,000 football players in Germany, nobody knows me,” joked Werner, his accent still plainly noticeable. “So when I go back I can have some time off.”
That may not be the case for long, though. Werner finished the regular season leading the Atlantic Coast Conference and tied for second in the nation with 13 sacks, including an eye-popping 3.5-sack performance in the Seminoles’ regular-season finale against Florida. In three years (two as a starter) he has compiled 23.5 sacks.
Werner is currently rated the top defensive end prospect in 2013 NFL Draft should he opt to leave school early. He has received numerous postseason accolades.
“Getting these honors is just amazing,” Werner mused. “Especially where I come from — I’m a German All-American. How awesome is that? I’m just proud to represent my family and my name and all the German football players with that honor.”
Werner has always dreamed of being in the NFL, since he took up football as a young man he has envisioned himself walking across the stage at Radio City Music Hall and posing for a picture with the commissioner, NFL jersey in hand.
That dream may not be far from coming to fruition, but so far Werner has been mum on his future plans. While conventional wisdom says he’s likely to turn pro, Werner (6-4, 255 pounds) is quick to remind reporters that no matter what he’s thinking today, he can always change his mind.
“I made up my mind, but I don’t want to tell you guys until after the [Orange Bowl] because I want to focus on the bowl game,” Werner said last week. “... I can change my mind [the] last day. You never want to tell stuff too early.
“Brandon Jenkins last year, I was positive he was going [pro]. The last day Coach Fisher talked to his family, talked about the positives, negatives and he changed his mind. I want to wait until I really know I can make the decision.”
Of course, the case of Brandon Jenkins could be what ultimately pushes Werner to forgo his senior year. After turning down a chance to be an early-round pick last year, Jenkins sustained a Lisfranc fracture during the first game of the 2012 season and missed the entire year.
As if that wasn’t enough to scare a guy into taking the money now, Jenkins’ replacement Tank Carradine potentially lost first-round money himself when he tore his ACL against UF.
Regardless of when Werner decides to go pro though, his goals do not merely end with making an NFL debut. Coming from Berlin, Werner is keenly aware of the challenges facing German football players trying to make it to the NFL.
“Going that way is so hard, you need people to give you opportunities,” said Werner. “On my way to this point, so many people in my life have opened doors for me, given me opportunities and I took it. Hopefully I have a nice NFL career and my name is so big that I can start opening the pipeline, hopefully I can give back.”