FORT LAUDERDALE (AP) — Bjoern Werner is rare.
The Florida State star defensive end is a married college student, already going on three years of wedded bliss. He’s a German-born All-American. He ended the regular season with 13 sacks, second-most in the nation.
To think his story started in Berlin, thanks to a long-lost friend named Mirko and some “weird guys” at his school who were tossing a football around.
“And I played Madden,” he said, referring to the popular video game.
He might be in next year’s version of Madden, at this rate. Werner and the Seminoles face Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl on Tuesday night, and it’s widely believed that this will be his last college game. He knows whether or not he’ll soon be declaring a year early for the NFL draft, saying Saturday that he and his wife have made their decision.
That is, unless the decision gets revisited.
“If her mind changes,” Werner said, “mine might change, too.”
Florida State’s opponents for next season surely won’t mind if Werner decides to head to the NFL soon after his rapid rise. His introduction to the game was basically flag football in his native country after he got too big to keep playing “futbol.” Werner decided to give this game a shot after seeing some schoolmates throwing a ball instead of kicking one.
He’s lost touch with them all.
So they might not even know how they helped him begin a journey that seems pointed toward NFL riches.
“This is everything I could dream right now, all this hype and not just about me individually,” Werner said. “I’m so happy that we’re in the Orange Bowl. This was my goal to be on the big stage; that’s why I came to Florida State. I’m so happy that we are here. Hopefully we can leave this thing with a win.”
If they do — and the Seminoles are two-touchdown favorites — it would be Florida State’s first 12-win season since 1999.
Werner is a huge reason for that success.
The Seminoles allow an average of 15.1 points, sixth-best in the nation. At 6-foot-4 and 255 pounds, he has more sacks this season than he had in his first two years of college combined — and did so while facing a steady stream of double-teams that typically didn’t do enough to slow him down.
“You have certain players that you can give them a certain amount of information, but they can only apply so much, so you have to be careful on who and what you give to certain players,” said Florida State defensive coach D.J. Eliot, who is joining Kentucky’s staff after the bowl. “But Bjoern is one of those players that he can take in anything you give him. You know what I mean? And he can apply it in the game.
“So he never ceases to amaze me on how much he can improve, and he’s done that his whole career.”
Which, frankly, didn’t start all that long ago.
Werner started playing flag football in his native Berlin, then went to prep school in Salisbury, Conn., after realizing he had tons of natural skill. When colleges came recruiting, they took a look at his size and told him he’d be better suited at defensive tackle or offensive line or tight end. Werner didn’t like any of those options.
Florida State coaches saw him play basketball, noted his athleticism and said he could play defensive end.
“It’s fun catching the ball,” Werner said. “But you can’t let loose like that.”
When he lets loose Tuesday, he’ll likely have Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch in mind.
Lynch entered the weekend 38th nationally in yards passing this season and third nationally in yards rushing — his total of 1,771 in that department being 500 more than any other quarterback in the country.
Chances are, if they meet during the Orange Bowl, it’ll be at high speed.
“The guy has a motor,” Lynch said. “That’s the biggest thing that stands out. He never takes a play off. He’s always going at it. Sometimes he’ll get cut-blocked. He’ll get right back up and make a tackle. It’s pretty impressive. He’ll run sideline to sideline and chase guys down. He’s probably one of the most complete football players we’ll play against.”
Werner said he would wait a few days after the Orange Bowl to announce his decision about next season, though it would count as a massive surprise — especially since the Seminoles will have a new defensive coordinator in 2013 — if he stuck around.
He has big plans to help the American version of football grow in Germany, eventually. He thought it was funny that his likeness adorned some buses that were decorated in Florida State colors and roaming the roads of South Florida in recent days to promote the bowl game. And even though some say he’s a top-five draft pick, Werner would rather tell you about what he still has to work on than what his strengths are.
“I worked hard,” Werner said. “It paid off.”
(©2012 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)