Well of foreign-born draft prospects gets deeper

Well of foreign-born draft prospects gets deeper
Florida State Seminoles defensive end Bjoern Werner (95) pressures in the second quarter of the game against the Northern Illinois Huskies at the 2013 Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium.
  • Margus Hunt won gold in the shot put and discus in the 2006 Junior World Championships.
  • Bjoern Werner began playing football in Germany before going to Connecticut as an exchange student.
  • Menelik Watson first played basketball at Marist College before switching to football.
  • BRADENTON, Fla. — Florida State defensive end Bjoern Werner wanted the right costume to wear for the now-viral “Harlem Shake” video he and 19 other IMG Academy NFL draft prospects spontaneously choreographed Saturday.

    Disappointed when someone grabbed his first choice, Werner uncovered a more amusing find — the Cowardly Lion of The Wizard of Oz.

    “This is perfect,” the 6-4, 250-pound Berlin-born Werner said.

    “Bjoern said it in such an Arnold Schwarzenegger-like way with his German accent, it just cracked you up,” IMG public relations director Kim Berard said.

    The ACC Defensive Player of the Year who calls himself “The German All-American” and is nicknamed “The Germinator” will head an impressive crop of foreign-born imports when the NFL scouting combine drills begin Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

    Werner, Seminoles right tackle Menelik Watson of Manchester, England, and Southern Methodist University defensive end Margus Hunt, who hails from Estonia, are among several talents helping take America’s game global.

    “We have so many foreign-born guys coming into the NFL right now,” Werner told USA TODAY Sports. “It’s going to continue to become a trend for athletes from the rest of the world to play this sport.

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    “Look at the pass-rushing defensive end from Brigham Young, (Ezekiel) Ansah from Ghana, along with Margus and Menelik.”.

    Werner is a potential top-10 pick in the April 25 draft after leading the nation with 13 sacks and finishing 16th with 18 tackles for a loss.

    “I’m doing this for myself first, because it was my ultimate dream to play in the NFL when I came over here five years ago,” Werner said. “But I’m also doing it for my family and country.

    “It’s a goal to help make the game bigger in Germany.”.

    Werner blazed a different trail than Watson, Hunt and Ansah, the only one among them to play football in his homeland. He played flag football for two years, then moved up to tackle football his third year in Germany. He then went through an online program run by USA Football International that provided a list of prep schools in New England offering money to exchange students to help offset tuition.

    He chose Salisbury School in Connecticut because it won its league championship the year before.

    The only “football” Watson played back in Manchester was soccer. He came to the USA to play basketball for Marist College in New York but flopped.

    The 6-6, 320-pounder decided to give American football a try at Saddleback College, a junior college in Mission Viejo, Calif., In 2011, when he played opposite left tackle Kyle Long, son of Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive end Howie Long.

    After eight games, Watson earned a scholarship to Florida State, where he surrendered one sack in 2012.

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    “I came over here with one bag, no money to my name. Now I’m a living, breathing example of what you can achieve,” Watson said.

    “There’s a lot of unemployment in Manchester. The NFL is becoming a global dream. I want to be someone who represents for kids across the world.”.

    The hulking Hunt won gold in the discus and shot put in the 2006 Junior World Championships in Beijing. Hunt, who measures 6-8, 280 pounds with an 82-inch wingspan, blocked 17 field goals/punts in four seasons. He made the team as a walk-on after enrolling at SMU to continue competing in track and field, but the school canceled its program.

    Hunt could walk away one of the biggest buzz guys of this combine should he run 40 yards in the expected 4.7-second range.

    “He’s definitely going to blow up the combine,” Werner said. “He’s a freakish athlete.”.

    Werner, Watson, Hunt and Ansah, a former BYU basketball player, have literally come so far to stand two months from realizing unlikely but increasingly far-flung draft dreams.

    “What we’re seeing now is a huge interest in American football across the globe,” IMG quarterback guru and former Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke said. “In the past, one or two international guys have come over here and had success. Now Bjoern Werner is going to go be a first-round pick, same for Margus and Menelik.”.

    And the pipeline for future foreign talent is in the works amid the roar of bulldozers busy shaping a 5,000-seat, state-of-the-art stadium complex on IMG’s 450-acre complex.

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    Weinke shows off mock-ups of the multimillion-dollar stadium/dormitory complex for the 45 to 50 high school players who will play for the Academy’s first high school team this fall. That roster will include 10 players hailing from Mexico, Japan and Canada.

    “International kids want to follow in the footsteps of Werner, Hunt and Watson,” Weinke said.

    “Our number of international high school players is only going to continue growing.”.

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