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Video game, Colts stars show Bjoern Werner the way to football

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INDIANAPOLIS – In electronic entertainment, nothing is lost in translation. Especially when it involves contact.

That was the aspect that caught the eye of a young teenager in Germany who was playing a video game featuring America’s most popular past-time. He picked up the rules of the game, the pace of the action, the violence of the hits and most importantly the names of those who made it happen in the National Football League.

“I was just so into football and just starting to play Madden on the Playstation, just picking up that game and knowing every NFL team, every player on the roster. It was a lot of fun,” said Bjoern Werner when he was in his middle teens just outside of Berlin.

As his knowledge grew, he had enough background to create a team of stars to which he could use to his advantage. In the process of selecting it, he picked up Colts defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis

“I was 12, 13, 14 years old and I played with both of those guys on my little All-Star Team. I created my little All-Star Team. I was pretty good,” said of his Madden football squad featuring. “Just playing with them, just having so much fun, I was a young kid.”

Little did he know as a young adult he would have a chance to not only take the field with one of those players but perhaps replace the other as the Indianapolis Colts selected him with the 24th overall pick in 2013 NFL Draft on Thursday night in New York City.

This fact might not have hit Werner when he was receiving his “No. 1” Colts jersey and hat while appearing on stage of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on the stage of Radio City Music Hall on Thursday, but during his introductory news conference on Friday in Indianapolis the coincidence hit him.

“I can ask Robert Mathis questions, that’s crazy,” said Werner remembering his Madden past. “I can’t believe that. I can ask him questions and he can teach me stuff, if he’s willing to, but I hope he does.”

While video games may have helped to get Werner hooked on the American version of football and those pair of players, the road to getting from Germany to the United States to play the game had a number of steps before and after. Werner said it was a friend bringing a flag football ball to school when he was in the sixth grade that caused initial interest and further inquiries led to him giving the sport a try.

“I was always into sports and he just said, ‘Why don’t you come one afternoon and try to practice with the club team in Berlin?’ I said, ‘Why not?’ I just went there and fell in love with flag football at the time,” said Werner. “In Germany, everything until 15 is flag football and 15-19, like high school age, is youth football, tackle football. So I played flag football and I was loving it but then I see the older guys playing tackle football

“It was just like, ‘Man, I want to do this but I can’t. I’m too young.’”

Eventually Werner got a chance to play with a club team named Berlin Adler before he came to the states as an exchange student to the Salisbury School in Connecticut. There he played football as a junior and a senior and did enough to earn a scholarship to play at Florida State.

“I had potential in Germany but on my way to this part right here, I got opportunities and I just took them,” said Werner of playing football in the United States. “But without those opportunities I would never make it. I’m so grateful that the people believe in me and they gave me the chance to do that.”
At Florida State he delivered on his potential as he has 23.5 sacks as part of 35 tackles for loss in his three seasons with the Seminoles as a defensive end including three forced fumbles. Even with a his numbers at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis coming in lower than projected Werner remained a likely first round selection and was there for the Colts once their pick came around.
With Freeney not being retained the team for 2013, Chuck Pagano was looking for someone to compliment Mathis as an outside linebacker in the Colts 3-4 defense-and Werner was his man.
“Yeah, I would say definitely,” said Pagano when asked if Werner could compliment Mathis. “That’s why we went and got this guy. He’s got some special traits. He’s got a high motor. He’s big. He’s strong. He’s got a great get off. He’s been rushing the passer for a long time down at Florida State; you know how they like to put those guys on the edge.
“First and second down, again, he’s going to be an edge setter for us and play the run game for us. But on third down there’s a multitude of things we can do with this guy. The simplest is line him up opposite of Robert and tell him, ‘Sick ‘em. Go get the quarterback.’”
For a long time, Werner did that using a joystick against an opponent in a video game. Doing so for real, he admits, it’s still a little bit surreal.
“It’s just amazing to be in the same room as him and I just can’t wait to meet him and tell him that story too,” said Werner of Mathis. “I respect him so much and it’s just an awesome time right now.”
Even more than when he put his All Star team on the virtual field of play.
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