The American football scene in Europe is slowly becoming more than a hidden recruiting hotbed for NCAA college coaches. Every year more European players are making their way over to the United States to play for some of the top coaches in college football.
In fact, an NCAA report from 2019 showed that there has been a 58% increase in the number of international student-athletes in D-I football between 2013 and 2018.
With this in mind, German linebacker Fabian Weitz is a great example of how the college game has become more global than ever before. The Cologne, Germany native now calls Buffalo, New York home during the college football season where he spent two years with the University of Buffalo before the pandemic hit and where he will return and become a redshirt sophomore.
His start in football was slightly different than his American college teammates though. Football in Europe is not played in schools but in clubs and at the age of 12 he was introduced to the game at a club in his home town of Cologne. He had competed in multiple sports including soccer, tennis, swimming, and judo but when a friend dragged him to a Cologne Falcons practice he was hooked.
“I started playing football for the Cologne Falcons. That was the only football team I knew back then, because I did not know anything about football at all. An old classmate told me to come to football practice with him one day. After my first practice I fell in love with football.”
Weitz played with the Falcons until 2014, before switching to the Cologne Crocodiles. As a member of the Crocodiles, Weitz was part of a strong youth program that won back-to-back German national championships in 2014, 2015, and returning to the championship in 2016. Coaches in Germany took note of Weitz’s budding talent quickly giving him a spot of Germany’s youth national teams. The decision paid off as Weitz was a key part of the 2014 U15 win over Canada and a semi final run in 2017’s U19 European championships.
In 2017, the 19-year-old linebacker had now grown to 6’0″ and 220 pounds and was playing the German Football League against the seniors for the first time. In five games in Europe’s top league, the young Crocodiles defender recorded 14 tackles, five tackles for a loss, one interception, and two sacks.
While playing in Germany, Weitz dreamed of playing college football in the US. This can be a daunting task for international prospects who are unfamiliar with the NCAA recruiting process. Finding a college coach that is interested can be difficult for any prospect, especially with geographical, language, and cultural differences. Weitz took matters into his own hands getting in touch with Brandon Collier and PPI recruits, a placement program that connects NCAA coaches with international prospects.
“I always had the dream of playing college football in the US. A couple years ago in Germany, I heard about Brandon Collier and PPI. I got in contact with them and sent them highlight tapes and workout videos. They told me to come to a showcase.”
In 2017, Weitz and other top prospects flew to the US to work out in front of a host of NCAA coaches. While working out at Rutgers University, the prospects were observed by various college coaches. Weitz’s athleticism caught the eye of the University of Buffalo coaching staff, a division one program in upstate New York. The University of Buffalo has produced many NFL players including Khalil Mack, James Starks, and Steven Means. After a visit, and a tour of the impressive facility, Weitz jumped at the chance to join the Buffalo football program!
“The first camp we had was at Rutgers. That was my first camp and it went really well. Some of the Buffalo coaches were at that camp too. They contacted me a couple days later and said that they wanted to meet me. I flew over to Buffalo that same day and left the group for two days. When I got to Buffalo they showed my around the facilities and the campus. Afterwards, they offered me a scholarship and I committed right away.”
After arriving on campus, it took the young German some time to adjust to the speed and complexity of the college game. Weitz spent his first season with the program as a redshirt keeping him on the team but only appearing in one game as he continued to practice hard and refine his skills.
“ I had to get used to the practice speed, because everything happens fast on the field, but it slows down for you after time. Also, one of the biggest differences is the mental part of the game and how it is organized. The playbook is way more complex and everybody is competing everyday. We have more film sessions where we study practice and game tape. Also everything is more professional including travel, facilities, coaching staff, players, etc.”
The next year in 2019, the former Cologne Crocodile shone in his new role as a special teamer and reserve linebacker making eight tackles on the season and appearing in 13 games as the Buffs went 8-5 and won the Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl.
Weitz describes his 2019 college football experience:
“In 2019, I started to see a lot of playing time in special teams and some as a linebacker. Also, one game that I remember well is the game against Penn State. We played in front of 105.000 people in the stadium and it was an amazing atmosphere. We finished the season off by flying to the Bahamas and winning the Bahama Bowl game against Charlotte.”
In 2020, because of the pandemic, Weitz made the difficult decision of opting out and returning home to Cologne. Since then he has been working hard getting ready to return to the Buffalo Program.
“I was in the US for the spring and then flew back to Germany for the rest of the year and opted out of the 2020 season. I was working out back home and got ready for this year.”
Weitz continues to strive to improve as a player. He looks forward to the journey of developing into a starter and chasing his dream of playing professionally. The former PPI prospect still has three seasons of eligibility left so his time in college football truly just beginning. Look for him to make a big impact in 2021 for this Buffalo squad!
The young German is determined and has set his goals:
“Establish myself as a starter on the football team and work towards playing in the NFL.”