International stars chasing glory in the College Football Playoffs

After a grueling season of college football, only four teams remain in the hunt for the national championship. Among the future draft picks, walk-ons, and redshirts are three international players rooted firmly as key parts of their contending teams chasing their chance at glory.

Starting off with the Big Ten champion Michigan Wolverines, Jim Harbaugh’s second-ranked squad will take Georgia in the Orange Bowl on Friday night. Michigan pass rusher Aiden Hutchinson has received most of the spotlight this season as a Heisman candidate and All-American. However, it was opposite defensive end David Ojabo who received the game ball for a stellar performance against arch-rival Ohio State. Ojabo’s standout performance helped Michigan pull off the upset against the Buckeyes and propel themselves into the postseason.

Ojabo is seen as one of the top pass-rushing prospects in the upcoming NFL draft, being projected as high as the 10th overall pick by analyst Mel Kiper. The Nigerian-born and Scotland-raised junior has only been playing football for five years, yet his athleticism and 6’5 250 pound frame flash all-pro potential. NFL Draft expert Mel Kiper on Ojabo’s massive upside:

“Ojabo has been one of the most impressive newcomers in the country this season,” Kiper wrote. “He has flashed advanced pass-rush moves — check out this spin on the right tackle for a strip-sack against Indiana — and his athletic traits pop on tape. While Ojabo needs to work on his all-around game, there’s a lot to like. He’s still young; he could develop into an elite edge rusher.”

On the other side of potential lies production, for the former Scottish basketball star, his stats are a slam dunk. After a slow first two seasons sitting behind future NFL Draft picks Josh Uche and Kwity Paye, Ojabo has racked up 11 sacks, 12 tackles for a loss, five forced fumbles, and 35 total stops this season. Defensive coordinator Mike MacDonald commented on Ojabo’s development this season:

“What you saw on tape was a guy with great ability. You could tell there was some untapped potential there. It kinda made sense a little bit once you realized his history. But his learning curve — I was telling somebody, I think he learns more football in a day than I did in like two years. He’s just a sponge, soaks it all up. He’s doing a great job. Fun to coach.”

Read more about David Ojabo’s football story here:

Sharing the defensive line room with the future pro is another productive international player in Julius Welschof. The 6’6″ 290 pound senior is a former ski champion turned defensive lineman from Bavaria. Welschof’s athleticism made him a sought-after recruit despite limited action on gridiron back way back in 2017. Now in his fourth year at Michigan, the former Munich Cowboy has cracked the defensive line rotation playing in all 13 games this season, tallying 11 tackles, one tackle for a loss, and one pass break up. Expect to see the massive German on the field often Friday night as the Wolverines will need his size against the Bulldogs run game. Welschof commented on adapting to college football at the highest level back in September:

“For me coming from Germany I had a lot to work on, I had to gain weight and learn the playbooks. Everything was really fast for me but now its starting to slow down and I can just play full speed.”

From one large German lineman to another, Cincinnati Bearcats guard Lorenz Metz followed a similar path to college football as Welschof gaining the attention of college coaches through Brandon Colliers PPI recruits. Metz initially joined the Bearcats as a 6’9 280 pound defensive lineman, but soon switched over to the offensive side. The move seemed to have paid off as the former Kirchdorf Wildcat has started 21 games for the Bearcats in his career.

This season, however, has been Metz’s best moving from tackle to guard. The enormous Bavarian earned first-team all-conference honors for his play on the interior offensive line this season. Looking ahead to the playoffs Metz and the underdog Bearcats face a stacked Alabama squad looking to repeat as national champs. Cincinnati’s all-conference guard commented on his improvement this season:

“ I’ve always had the feeling that I can play at this level. Mentally, however, I was often not up to speed in the previous seasons and could not always withstand the pressure. That then meant that I could not always call up my top performance. “ (via Ran.de translated from German)

Despite their unconventional paths, these three dream chasers find themselves one game away from college football’s pinnacle. The international talents have paved the way for more global prospects to make their way to the top of college football, confirming their talent against the best the US has to offer.

Alex is a former professional American football player who is now studying in London. His goal writing for AFI is to stay involved with the game that has given him so much. Alex enjoys covering leagues and players and sharing different football