“I actually didn’t really believe him,” Welschof said, figuring he would be far behind American counterparts who had been playing the game for far longer.
Later, Catenis took him to a Jacksonville Jaguars scrimmage, and Welschof was hooked, Catenis said. Welschof returned to Germany and found a club team. He started out playing tight end and, just a few months after starting, had made an all-star team representing the Bavarian region. A coach told him he should also play defensive end, which he was OK with, except for one thing.
“I didn’t even know what the position was,” he said.
As he continued to learn the game while growing and adding muscle, Welschof began to believe Catenis’ prophecy could come to pass. Last year, three years removed from high school (he has been in something akin to a work-study program), he decided to give a year to trying to get a football scholarship and, if it didn’t happen, go to university in Germany. In January, he learned about Collier, who was going to take European prospects on a tour of college camps in the U.S. that summer.
He told Collier about his measurable numbers, but Collier wanted to see for himself. Welschof drove several hours to meet him in Wiesbaden, where Collier became a believer. Welschof can run the 40-yard dash in 4.55 seconds, Collier said, absurd speed for someone his size. His 10-foot, 3-inch standing broad jump would have tied for ninth among defensive linemen at the most recent NFL draft combine.
A little bit about Welschof’s background – he was a competitive skier from the time he was a child, developing his agility, leg strength, balance and explosiveness.
“I’ve been around the game a long time,” Collier said. “I haven’t met too many people 6-7, 250 pounds that can run like him. He’s a little raw and new to the game, but once he gets it, he’s by far one of the best athletes that I have ever had a chance of seeing live.”
Welschof joined about a dozen college football hopefuls for the tour, stopping at camps of several FBS and FCS schools. Just to make the trip, Welschof took on a second job to cover expenses. It proved a wise investment, as he picked up a number of scholarship offers. After their return, Collier reached out to Tech recruiting staffer Cody Moore, who became intrigued. One of Tech’s recent successes was Adam Gotsis, who came to Tech from Australia as a raw talent and developed into a second-round draft pick.
Tech brought him to Atlanta for an official visit for the Wake Forest game in October. He spent his Friday night with walk-on Jack Coco, who took him to Top Golf. The game experience at Bobby Dodd Stadium the following day made an impression. He was aware of the NFL, but didn’t expect the college football experience to be anything similar.
“That’s what I didn’t know, that it would be that big,” Welschof said.
He made his commitment to Tech shortly after his return to Germany.
Pelton, who will be Welschof’s position coach, came to Bavaria for his home visit this past week.
“Everybody I told was like, ‘These Americans are crazy to send a coach over there for just one day,’” Welschof said. “Everybody was impressed about that.”
Welschof will enroll in January, which will give him the chance to go through spring practice and get a head start on his first season. While Tech’s academic reputation was part of the allure – he wants to study industrial engineering – Welschof also is coming to pursue his NFL dream. A free education isn’t that much of an attraction – public universities in Germany are free.
“I’m still there to study, but the reason I go over there and leave my country is to play football and see how far I can get,” he said.
Welschof’s hope, too, is that he’ll help open doors for other Europeans. Collier thinks that there are between 50 and 80 European players annually that could play at the FBS or FCS level. He has started a recruiting database, Premier Players International, to help connect U.S. coaches and prospects.
Back in Florida, Catenis marvels at what’s happened. A former N.C. State tennis player (he is friends with Tech women’s tennis coach Rodney Harmon), he is curious for what awaits.
“I get it – it’s different when you’re in shorts and a T-shirt,” said Catenis, referring to the interest in Welschof stemming heavily from what he did in combine-type workouts. “(But) he’s going to be OK. He’s probably going to ruin my Wolfpack for the next four years, but that’s OK.”