How a Wisconsin legend got his German protégé into Badgers pro day

Mar 15, 2024

Marlon Werthmann put his life on hold for the opportunity in front of him Friday at the McClain Center.
Werthmann — a 6-foot-4, 290-pound offensive lineman from Mannheim, Germany — traveled from Munich, Germany, to Madison to participate in the Badgers' pro day at the behest of Wisconsin legend Joe Thomas. He connected with Thomas, a Pro Football Hall of Famer, when he signed with the Munich Ravens in January. Thomas is the team’s offensive line coach.
When Thomas saw the strength, playing style and desire Werthmann possessed, he connected with the folks at Wisconsin to get Werthmann an opportunity to show his skills at pro day. It was a second chance that Werthmann desperately wanted after an injury prevented him from rejoining the International Pathway Program for a second year. The IPP is a developmental system in which international players get access to training and exposure to potentially join NFL teams.
“(Thomas) thought I could get a shot here,” Werthmann said, “maybe get a shot at the NFL.”
Werthmann put up an impressive showing on the bench press, completing 31 reps of 225 pounds, which would’ve ranked third among O-linemen at the NFL Scouting Combine, but he was in the bottom tier of combine participants in the rest of the events for which unofficial results were provided (26½-inch vertical; 7-feet, 11-inch broad jump, 5.5-second 40-yard dash).
Werthmann’s football career started at 12 years old when a friend suggested Werthmann join him for practice after school.
“He said, ‘We need big guys,’” Werthmann said with a laugh.
There weren’t many sports options for a kid as big as Werthmann, who said he might have taken up powerlifting if football hadn’t entered his life. He developed quickly and was a strong, raw interior lineman looking into college opportunities in the United States when COVID-19 hit. Travel restrictions across the globe made the prospect of chasing a scholarship difficult, so he turned his focus to professional leagues in Germany.
He joined the Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns in 2021 and helped them win the Central European Football League in 2021 and 2022. He came to America as part of the IPP and trained in Florida and Arizona. He hoped another strong season in Europe would get him an NFL look, so he joined the Stuttgart Surge of the European League of Football. Just before the 2023 season started, he suffered an ankle injury that held him out the rest of the year.
Football had been the driving force in most of his life decisions to that point. He’d paused his educational career in mechanical engineering to pursue football, and he was making about $500 per month playing in Europe while working part time at an engineering firm.
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The injury looked like it was going to be the end of his football journey. But linking up with Thomas allowed him to get in front of personnel from 31 of 32 teams at the McClain Center.
Werthmann had no problem admitting he was nervous. He had been around the Badgers facility and the rest of the pro day participants for at least a couple of days, so that helped him be a bit more comfortable, but he understood the magnitude of the moment.
“It was definitely like a hard fall from maybe making it to the NFL, to back to where I basically started, to not being able to play at all,” Werthmann said. “Also, because I like paused my degree for all of that stuff as well. So at that point, I just had football and then that got taken away. So that was pretty hard. But I kind of worked my way up in the offseason, in the gym and all that stuff. And then with Joe coming in there was like a lot more perspective. Again, that's what helped me.”
Werthmann, 22, is hoping he showed enough during on-field drills and through his measurables to get a look as a center or guard in an NFL minicamp this spring. If not, he’ll head back to Germany to continue his pro career and resume his academic pursuits.
“Coming in, you've done everything that you could,” Werthmann said, “but there's always like a little margin that you just can't account for.”

Colten Bartholomew | Wisconsin State Journal
Filed 03.17.2024

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