Copenhagen Towers RB Anton Witmeur is built different and he likes it that way

When people talk about football players that are ‘built different,’ they are usually referring to those who are bigger, longer and stronger than the competition. The 36-inch arms of a player like Calvin Johnson, the 6-foot-7, 360-pound frame of a freakish offensive lineman like Mekhi Becton, or the 250-pound bulk of a Derek Henry are things that set players apart. Football is a big man’s game after all.

Anton Witmeur is not that guy. At 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds soaking wet, you’d be unlikely to give him a second glance if you passed him on a Copenhagen street. Yet being built different has allowed Witmeur to achieve monumental success in Denmark, powering his hometown Towers to success and changing the way football is played in his country.

For anyone who has watched the Towers play recently, the suggestion that anyone other than Witmeur could be the primary ball carrier seems preposterous. He’s reliable to cross the century mark in rushing every game and has been a touchdown machine, but it wasn’t always that way. In fact, he became a running back quite by accident, two years after he first took up the sport at the age of 11.

“There was a guy who was our starting running back that was a big, strong kid and one game he was told he was too big to run the ball,” Witmeur recalled of his start in the game. “Our coach was like ‘okay, what do we do? Give it to Anton he’s fast.’ I think I scored on my first handoff.”

That type of first impression saw him moved from his usual cornerback position and into the backfield more frequently, but coaches were hesitant to use him. Witmeur was among the fastest players in the nation, but his wafer-thin frame didn’t check any of the boxes that teams wanted from a workhorse back. They wanted to run between the tackles, but he wasn’t the guy to do it.

“I was always told I was too small, I was too skinny, I needed to gain weight, because football for a long time up until the 2010s was only played by guys who weighed over 200 pounds,” Witmeur said. “Even in the mid-2000s, it was bigger guys and the spread didn’t become popular in Europe until 2010. People ran I-formation and I wasn’t an I-formation player, that’s for sure.”

Anton Witmeur #28 evading an AaB 89ers defender Photo: Per Falkeborg

There were doubts whether Witmeur could ever excel at the position, but a wave of innovation in college football across the Atlantic gave him fresh confidence. The success of De’Anthony Thomas with the Chip Kelly-led Oregon Ducks and the budding stardom of Tavon Austin at West Virginia provided prominent examples of 180-pound playmakers who could supercharge an offense, but baby steps were still required in Denmark

“There was still the sentiment in Danish American football that a receiver could be a little bit smaller, but a running back for sure had to be at least 225 pounds. I was not anywhere near that, so all the youth teams that I played on, I always had to start under someone else,” Witmeur explained. “Then by coincidence or just by sheer hustle, at some point I’d get the ball and score. Then they’d say maybe we should rethink the way we play.”

That trend would continue all the way up to the Men’s level. When Witmeur joined the Towers in the top league, the head coach didn’t even have a stretch concept in the playbook to take advantage of his new runner.

“I was basically a gimmick player, I ran jet sweeps and nothing else, but we tormented the rest of the league by only running those,” Witmeur laughed, recalling how defenses would shout ‘Pigeon Boy’  or ‘Rat Daddy’ to communicate his arrival in the formation.

The insults did little to slow the Towers down and the play was so efficient it became a primary formation. Eventually, the Copenhagen staff threw up their hands. It was time to change the scheme and make Witmeur the focal point.

He lived up to the role, but his biggest breakthrough came in 2017 as he sat on the sidelines. Witmeur was injured, prompting the Towers to bring in diminutive import Dayton Winn to fill his spot. Winn ripped up the Nationalligaen and Witmeur had an epiphany.

“What I realized was that this guy was actually smaller than me and he wasn’t as fast. He was slower than me, weaker than me, and he was a better back,” he admitted.

Anton Witmeur scoring a TD against the Triangle Razorbacks in 2016 Photo: Michael Quist

It was Winn’s patience that made the difference, his ability to throttle down at the aiming point and kick back into gear as the holes opened up. Over the past few years, Witmeur’s worked to add that aspect to his own game and the results have made him a much more complete back. He’s able to take what the defense gives him and then break through for a homerun, making him consistently one of the most dangerous players in the country.

What might be more impressive is the level of self-assuredness he exudes while doing it. Witmeur knows he’s built different from other athletes, but he understands his own strengths and plays to them. There is a desire within him to prove his worth daily, but no inferiority complex.

Witmeur will always be an undersized back but he embraces that, unwilling to be anything less than himself. That extends to his personality as well, where Witmeur takes pride in being somewhat outside the norm of football culture. From his long luxurious hair to an express interest in fantasy TV, World of Warcraft, and anime, he takes pride in beating opponents while being outside the box.

“It’s fun to taunt the opponent with it, you know?  You just got obliterated by a guy with long hair and who likes anime,” he grinned. “That’s also fun to rub in their face.”

He’s done plenty of that in recent years as Witmeur has redefined the running back position in Denmark, but there are still things he wants to accomplish. That list includes an MVP trophy and bringing the Mermaid Bowl back to Copenhagen, goals that will next be put to the test against the emerging AaB 89ers. It will be a tight battle between contenders, but Witmeur is approaching it with the same singular determination that’s seen him become a star despite all the obstacles.

“Like John Gruden says, I’m not much for dreams anymore. I’m all about nightmares and right now, I want to break their dreams,” he said steely-eyed when asked about the matchup.

“I’ve been runner up as league MVP like two or three times. With me as a starting running back of the Towers, we’ve lost the Mermaid Bowl twice. I’ve only won it once and I wasn’t starting at that point in time. Right now, I couldn’t give a s**t about Aalborg and their dream.”

Watch the game live here: Copenhagen Towers @ Aalborg 89ers, August 28, 14:00 CET, (2 pm, 08:00 am ET)

J.C. Abbott is a student at the University of British Columbia and amateur football coach in Vancouver, Canada. A CFL writer for 3DownNation, his love of travel has been the root of his fascination with the global game.