Bjoern Werner wasn't the first international player to be taken in the 2013 NFL draft.
That was Ghana-native Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah, a defensive end out of BYU who was selected fifth overall. Werner wasn't taken until the 24th pick.
But it could be Werner's journey from Germany to Florida State that I think should resurrect the effort by the NFL and the NCAA to grow football worldwide.
The International Student Program
The NFL first tried to grow the sport of football—and their wallets—by starting the NFL Europe. But after a decade the league shut down and the hope of playing football in America seemed to go with it.
Patrick Steenberge from NFL.com:
"When NFL Europe closed its doors, there appeared to be nowhere other than on club teams at home for these youngsters to showcase their talents. There are some excellent teams, particularly in Europe, in Germany, Austria, Italy and France, but 16- and 17-year-olds can only improve to college football standards by coming to America to play at the high school level."
Steenberge started the International Student Program, which set up athletes that wanted to pursue a football career with prep schools in the United States.
That is how Werner got from club teams in Germany to Salisbury School in Connecticut.
But in 2009, the International Federation of American Football shut the door on the ISP, deciding that the best way to grow football was to keep athletes in their own countries to elevate the level of play there.
Opportunity Still There, Without Help
Foreign athletes are still making collegiate teams. Ansah is a prime example.
He came to BYU with an academic scholarship and tried to make the Cougars' basketball team, but instead ended up playing football.
Jesse Williams came from Australia to be the anchor of Alabama's championship defensive line.
Brad Wing took advantage of his Australian Rules Football skills to become a punter for LSU, and is now with the Philadelphia Eagles. Likewise, Cameron Johnston, a fellow Aussie footballer, will fill Ohio State's punting void in 2013.
The world has become better. While it's not the 1988 United States basketball team losing in the Olympics, the international team did beat the U.S. in the 2012 International Bowl—a game played between the USA's under-19 team and the world's under-19 team.
Why Not Bring in More?
The journey from outside North America to big-time college football is still there, but shouldn't the NCAA, the NFL and for that matter, the coaches, be pushing for more?
The culture in college football is to leave no stone unturned. Coaches do anything to get star athletes to play for their teams. Yet, the international game isn't being cultivated like it could be, at least from my point of view.
I know the NCAA won't let coaches get involved with bringing foreign athletes to prep schools in the United States.
But it seems to me that it would be in the best interest of everyone involved, from the NFL to the NCAA to the student athletes, to have more Bjoern Werners.
Sure, it will take some money and someone smarter than me to figure it all out—although Steenberge already had it working—but the growth in the sport internationally would certainly bring in more revenue.
To me there is no better way to grow football, especially the college game, than to bring in players from all over the world—therefore bringing in more viewers from around the world.
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