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August 6, 2009The allure of playing football at some of the top colleges in the nation brings high school students to the gridiron. For Salisbury School (CT) DT Bjoern Werner, the journey was a bit longer.
Werner is a native of Berlin, Germany, and he shunned "fu?all" in favor of football at the age of 12. Werner dipped his toe into America's game and began to play flag football. After two years, he moved onto full-contact, tackle football.
But, like many international students, Werner was faced with the bleak reality of American football abroad:
The competition just doesn't match-up with the level in the United States.
Luckily, USA Football has a program for such cases. USA Football, which is a non-profit organization that acts as the national governing body for football, created the International Student Program.
The program gives an opportunity for some of the top international players to study in the United States and play football for prep schools, mainly located in the Northeast.
The program's brochure reads, "The experience provides students with a unique opportunity to grow intellectually and socially while developing advanced American football skills. The program began during the 2006-07 academic school year with six international students attending schools in Connecticut, New Hampshire and North Carolina."
Werner was a member of the program's second year, and traveled to Salisbury, Conn. for his sophomore year. His coach, Chris Adamson summed up Werner's ranking that year.
"He's the crown jewel in that year's class," Adamson said.
The transition wasn't seamless for Werner. Not only is the game quicker and more physical, according to the soon-to-be senior, but he had to deal with the difficulties of adapting to life in the United States.
"The language was most difficult," Werner said. "In Germany, you have to take English as a second language, but it's just elementary language. It's really easy. But it was pretty rough at first over here."
Werner said he felt more comfortable after two months.
"I started thinking in English instead of German," Werner said. "That was when I knew I was improving."
Adamson said while Werner had growing pains on the social side, he translated easily on the football field.
"The football he was playing in Germany was pretty good," Adamson said. "He had a real good base, and just an innate understanding of football.
"There's zero language barrier when it comes to football."
Werner excelled at multiple positions for Salisbury, including kicker, but his main position - the position that's helping him gather scholarship offers - is on the defensive line.
In Adamson's 3-3-5 base defense, the 6-foot-4, 264-pound lineman mans a three-technique as a strong-side defensive end. He slides all over the line, however, and most schools are interested in him as a tackle.
"As he progressed, he started shedding blocks and keeping his feet moving," Adamson said. "He naturally knows what to do, so the moves he added were just icing on the cake."
While the transition on the field was seamless, he struggled with homesickness and "personal problems," according to both coach and player. Werner went back to Berlin for his junior year to deal with the issues, but soon realized football is his future.
"Some offers came rolling in when he was back home," Adamson said. "And that was based off film only from his sophomore year. He grew up a little bit, and he realized he wants to play college football."
Werner came back to Connecticut on July 1 and hasn't looked back.
"After five months back in Berlin, I was ready," Werner said. "I'm excited for the future."
He's excited for good reason. He's already collected offers from Oregon, Cal, Boston College, UConn, Tulsa, Syracuse and Maryland, and a multitude of other schools are showing interest. One of those schools is Missouri.
"I think they contacted me before I came to America," Werner said. "Coach Brian Jones is recruiting me."
The Tigers are in dire need of depth at the defensive tackle position for 2010, and Jones told Werner they like his technique, quickness off the ball, and how he moves.
"I've looked at their website," Werner said. "I like the campus, and they have a good football team and a high percentage of graduation. They are the best of both worlds."
Adamson echoed his player's sentiments.
"He definitely is intrigued by the program and being able to play in the Big 12," Adamson said. "It's a school he's definitely interested in and excited about."
Now, Werner is scheduling visits. He already has visits planned to Cal, Maryland and Oregon, and is trying to set-up an official with Missouri.
"We just need to get it figured out because we play on Saturdays here, so it's more difficult to plan it," Adamson said.
Whether it's in the black and gold or not, Werner looks set to join Boston College's Kasim Edebali as one of the International Students Program's greatest success stories.
In his coach's mind, Werner's journey is already a success.
"He's grown a lot," Adamson said. "His grades are great. He didn't say much before, and now he's the team ambassador."