TALLAHASSEE, Fla. There are few players that have come as far literally and figuratively as Bjoern Werner.
He grew up in Berlin, Germany, and took up flag football in middle school just because some friends asked him to join the team. He hadnt hit his growth spurt yet and was playing receiver and defensive back.
Werner fell in love with the game and continued to improve. He played three years of club football, and two years of high school football in Connecticut before landing at Florida State.
And he has been one of the nations best defensive ends in 2012, leading the Atlantic Coast Conference with 13 sacks -- he's tied for second nationally with South Carolinas Jadeveon Clowney (Anthony Barr of UCLA has 13.5) -- and was second in the conference with 18 tackles for loss. Werner also had 40 tackles and broke up seven passes.
Despite constant double-teams, the 6-foot-4, 255-pound junior was named a unanimous All-American and had one of the finest seasons ever by a Florida State pass rusher.
Being an All-American is something Werner is proud of. And its easy for him to joke about, too.
Im a German All-American, Werner said with a smile. How awesome is that?
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher knows the schools history of top pass rushers as well as anyone. Hes watched future first-round picks like Peter Boulware, Reinard Wilson, Andre Wadsworth and Jamal Reynolds rush the passer through the years. And Fisher thinks that Werner is up there in their company.
Hes earned everything he got, Fisher said. Hes a phenomenal human being. When youre talking about as complete a player played the run, played the pass, could stand up I would imagine he would be one of the tops (at Florida State). He belongs in the conversation, I know that.
It is the third straight year that Florida State has had at least one consensus All-American. Punter Shawn Powell was a consensus pick in 2011, and guard Rodney Hudson was a unanimous pick in 2010. Werner is the first unanimous All-American on the Seminoles defense since Reynolds in 2000.
Getting these honors is just amazing, especially where I come from, Werner said.
Werner knows whether he plans to return to Florida State for his senior season or enter the NFL Draft early, but hes not telling now, at least not until the Seminoles (11-2) finish the season on Jan. 1 against Northern Illinois (12-1) in the Orange Bowl.
If he were to return in 2013, Werner would be playing for a new defensive coordinator and defensive ends coach (Mark Stoops will be Kentuckys head coach and D.J. Eliot is joining him). Many draft analysts project that Werner would be a top-five overall pick if he enters the 2013 draft.
So its likely that Tuesday will be the final night that Werner puts on a Florida State uniform.
Its been quite the journey for a skinny kid who grew up playing flag football and picked up nuances of the game by playing the Madden video games. But even then he set playing in the NFL as his goal.
I envisioned it, Werner said. Obviously when you have a dream you have to stay positive with that dream to reach it. I was setting that goal. Right now it looks pretty good. Im just happy that I went that path and I can enjoy it now a little bit.
He said hes thankful for the help from family and coaches both in Berlin and Salisbury, Conn. who have supported him through the years.
There are currently just two German-born players in the NFL New England Patriots guard Sebastian Vollmer and New York Giants defensive tackle Markus Kuhn.
Werner would like to see that number rise. He said he would like to give back in some way to his club team, Berlin Adler, and he hopes that he can help blaze a trail for future Germans who want to play college football and potentially in the NFL.
Its so hard, Werner said. You need opportunities. You need people who give you opportunities. Theres so many people in my life that have opened doors for me and given me opportunities. Hopefully I have a nice NFL career where my name is so big that I can open the pipeline and give back.