Julius Welschof had never seen a college football team up close and personal until last April. That’s when he made the trip from his home in Miesbach, Bavaria, Germany, to Rome to watch Michigan practice along with his American football coach, Brandon Collier, and a few other high school-aged players from around Europe.
“They were all so big. They looked like professionals,” Welschof told Land of 10. “Compared to European [players], they are bigger and faster. I was pretty impressed by that.”
He also thought to himself: “Am I good enough to play at this level?”
Collier, a former defensive lineman in college at Massachusetts who got a taste of the NFL and played a couple of seasons in the CFL before playing in Europe, certainly thought so. While Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, defensive coordinator Don Brown and defensive line coach Greg Mattison didn’t know Welschof then, they came to know him over the summer and through the fall.
They believe he can play at Michigan.
That’s why they offered Welschof a scholarship four days before the start of the early signing period in December. It’s why they are excited he was one of the 16 players who signed their national letter of intent on Dec. 20 to become members of the Class of 2018.
Welschof has never played a down of football competitively against the type of athletes who annually fill out Division I recruiting classes but the word “project” is not one Michigan is attaching to the 6-foot-6, 253-pound German.
“Be careful with ‘project.’ Brandon Collier, his coach, played for me at UMass, so it’s not like we’re taking a flyer on a guy,” said Brown, who was an assistant coach at UMass when Collier played for the Minutemen. “This guy is big, and he can run. Has anybody seen any of his little trickery things he does? He’s an athlete. He’ll have the best defensive line coach [Mattison], in my opinion, to tutor him.”
— juliuswelschof (@JuliusWelschof) August 24, 2017
‘I hate being second place’
Welschof grew up playing soccer and tennis, but he’s been skiing since he was 5 years old. He competed with various ski teams just the same as many American youth grow up playing on different football, basketball or baseball teams.
What he lacks in nuance for football, he plans on making up for it with determination.
“I know I have to work harder than everybody to get bigger, to understand the game, because I know they are probably one step ahead of me because they’ve played high school football,” Welschof said.
“I need people who are better than me because I hate being second place. Michigan is a good place to compete with good people. I think if you compete with good people, you get better, too. I used to ski before and I had that experience. I went to a better team and I got better myself because I had better teammates with the ski team.”
Had some fun working out today !!! 🏈🏈 pic.twitter.com/5PSFq1qfaY
— juliuswelschof (@JuliusWelschof) August 22, 2017
He discovered football when he was a teenager by watching videos. The first NFL team he saw play in person, the Jacksonville Jaguars, is his favorite. His favorite player is J.J. Watt, although there is another one he’d like to emulate.
“I don’t know if I can say it now, but I like the way Joey Bosa plays,” said Welschof, who is well aware that Bosa’s alma mater — Ohio State — has now become his biggest rival. “I think J.J. Watt is kind of the same person. I like the fast guys and they’re still big and tall.”
Welschof graduated from his secondary educational institute in Germany in 2016. He dreamed of playing football in the United States and of going to college here, but how to make that dream a reality was a different story.
That’s when he met Collier. Welschof had heard about Premier Players International, an organization Collier began as a means for helping European players find a connection to football scholarships in America. He contacted Collier and the two were able to arrange a meeting where Collier could work out Welschof and figure out what the kid had.
Collier hasn’t stopped raving about Welschof since.
“He’s a very raw player, but I don’t think he’s as raw as everybody thinks,” Collier said. “He hasn’t played football in over a year but he’s been practicing a lot and I’ve been watching him. During those summer camps he was very … he seemed like a very polished pass rusher during the summer.”
Collier led a group of 13 players from PPI to the U.S. for a two-week tour of college camps. They went to Penn State, Ohio State, Old Dominion, Wayne State in Detroit and Michigan.
When the players arrived in Ann Arbor, it was during a skills camp. The Big Man Big House camp that would’ve better suited Welschof wasn’t for another week, but he was still able to do various drills that showed off his skills.
With each camp, Welschof was better equipped to answer that question he had in Rome, “Am I good enough to play at this level?”
He found out he was.
“When I saw at the first camps I’m doing pretty good, I got more confident,” Welschof said. “From camp to camp, I wouldn’t say I went there, ‘Oh, it’s another easy one,’ but I’m not afraid of competing and thinking, ‘They’ve played six years and they must be much better than me.’ I knew that it doesn’t matter how long you’ve played. It’s how hard you want it.”
‘It was tough to tell Georgia Tech’
Welschof announced in late October that he was committing to Georgia Tech. He wants to study engineering. He has had a job working in mechanics since he graduated, and even took on a second job to help pay for the camp tour last summer.
That’s when, he says, his parents Heike and Karl-Theo knew he was serious about playing college football in the U.S.
After the camp at Michigan, Welschof spoke with Mattison and Brown. They gave him a similar message: They liked him and don’t be discouraged if a scholarship offer doesn’t come right away.
Welschof’s contact with the Wolverines was intermittent, so much so he basically wrote off the possibility of getting an offer. Until it finally came.
“It came unexpected but I was still happy that it came,” Welschof said.
Happy, but he had a difficult decision to make. Welschof couldn’t make a bad choice when it came to the academics and the engineering schools of both universities, but he had given his word to Georgia Tech.
“I called them in person,” Welschof said. “It was out of respect, and not just sign with Michigan and let them know by Twitter or something. I liked the coach and the recruiter. It was tough. It’s not tough to go to Michigan, but it was tough to tell Georgia Tech and to break the word I gave them.”
— juliuswelschof (@JuliusWelschof) December 20, 2017
‘That’s a lot of upside’
Collier said that seven of the 13 players who came on the summer tour last year signed Division I letters of intent, and three more are committed to schools and prepared to sign in February. When Collier played in Europe, he saw talent and recognized it was a virtually untapped area. That’s why he set up Premier Players International, to give those players an outlet to showcase their skills.
Welschof found Collier because he seeking such an outlet. It’s a long way from watching a Michigan practice in Rome to being part of a practice in Ann Arbor, but there is no doubt in the minds of Welschof, Collier or the Michigan coaching staff that he belongs.
“He’s 6-7, he’s 255 pounds and he runs sub-5 flat [40-yard dash],” Brown said. “That’s a lot of upside. So when he reaches his arm out to the quarterback, it’s not like me reaching out. It’s a grown man. It’s a beautiful thing. But he’s been coached. He’s been coached by Brandon Collier, who was a defensive lineman by trade, was a four-year starter for me, ran 11-flat 100 meters. So he knows what he is looking at. He’s a talented guy.”