Sebastian Vollmer, Bjoern Werner share German heritage, dream

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Regardless of the outcome of the AFC Championship Game, a German who grew up a world away from the glamour of the Super Bowl will be heading to Arizona to play in the NFL's annual showpiece.

The only question is whether it is Indianapolis Colts pass-rusher Bjoern Werner or New England Patriots right tackle Sebastian Vollmer who will emerge victorious from Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts -- 3,500 miles from where both players' careers started.

"It's amazing," said Werner, who first played football with his hometown club, Berlin Adler, then had two standout years at a Connecticut prep school and spent three seasons at Florida State before becoming the Colts' first-round selection in the 2013 NFL Draft.

"I'm all about making football bigger in Germany, and I'm really pumped that I'm in this game and so is another German. We're in the newspapers at home every day of the week; this game is so huge.

"Sebastian is just another player when it comes to Sunday, but he's one of the best right tackles in the game, and what he has accomplished already is amazing."

Vollmer's performance for a European all-star team at the NFL Global Junior Championship -- played, ironically, during Super Bowl week in San Diego in 2003 -- helped him progress from the Dusseldorf Panther youth team to the University of Houston. The Patriots spent a second-round pick on his raw talent in 2009.

"It's great for Germany, simply because a German will be in the Super Bowl," he said.

Of course, Vollmer and Werner's units will be directly opposing each other -- and the two players could even end up battling one-on-one.

"Bjoern knows how to rush the passer and how to set the edge, and he knows what he's doing out there, so he brings a challenge, of course," Vollmer said.

While Vollmer and Werner dared to dream from a distance of a life in the NFL, some of their junior coaches saw that, even at a young age, each possessed the desire to turn potential into success on the gridiron.

"As a teenage prospect, Sebastian had what most big European and even American kids don't have, and that's a nasty streak in him," explained Jeff Reinebold, a former NFL Europe coach who championed Vollmer's bid to earn a college scholarship. "He naturally finished blocks and plays and ran through people. He had the build you look for and, matched with that mentality, it was clear he could make the grade, at least at the college level.

"He was a swimmer initially, and not only was he physically great, but this gigantic skinny kid, who didn't know much about football or speak a word of English, was different because he had true toughness. He got in the weight room when he was at Houston, and he just got on with it.

"Look at him now. He didn't let (Ravens pass-rushers) Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil get a sniff of Tom Bradylast week."

Chris Adamson knew the moment Werner arrived at the Salisbury School in Connecticut that he had "a man among boys" joining his football roster, even though Werner was a sophomore.

"He seemed to have a different understanding of the game compared with kids of that age," said Adamson, who coached Salisbury at the time. "I will always remember seeing him in person, watching him on the field for the first time be naturally physical, with great power angles. He is one of those big bodies that is capable of moving, is incredibly strong and gets great separation from blockers. His sheer, brute strength in his hands meant he was able to throw older kids around, even before he hit the weight room.

"On top of all that, he ran well, had great hands catching the ball, and we lined him up at tight end and kicking off, as well. I called him the punt-pass-kick champion of the world."

Werner had four sacks and 50 combined tackles in 2014 -- not the banner numbers some might expect from a former first-round pick in his second season. But Adamson sees a team player who has transitioned effectively from end to rush linebacker in a 3-4 defense with the Colts, making plays that don't create headlines.

"He's a very selfless guy," said Adamson. "He always wanted to do everything he possibly could to make the team win, and that's his character, which he's maintained. That doesn't always show up or get him any accolades.

"He does a great job of pursuing from behind and neutralizing the block against Pro Bowl tackles and stops them getting off the line of scrimmage, and his teammates make the plays or get the sacks."

If Werner's Colts win Sunday, he'll join Vollmer, who finished on the losing side of Super Bowl XLVI, and Uwe von Schamann -- a kicker for the Miami Dolphins in the 1980s who played in Super Bowls XVII and XIX -- as the third German to reach the game they could only dream about from such faraway humble beginnings.

Michael Preston is a freelance writer based in Boston who previously worked for NFL Europe.

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