Of all the recruits Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh will sign this week, none will have had a crazier path to Ann Arbor than Julius Welschof. His road to big-time FBS football started in southern Germany, where the 20-year-old aspiring engineer worked in a manufacturing plant. He learned the game from watching videos online and had been playing for a club team, the Munich Cowboys, for four years. Last winter, Welschof was planning on walking on at FCS South Dakota after the staff there discovered his workout tape, but he had heard about an American who had settled in Germany after his pro career with the goal of helping international prospects get Division I scholarship offers.
After a college career at UMass and a brief stint with the Philadelphia Eagles, Brandon Collier spent two seasons with the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers and then went overseas, playing for teams in Austria and Germany. He noticed quite a few gifted athletes in Europe who he thought could be FBS college football players. “I knew with my connections I could help these kids,” says the 32-year-old Collier, the founder and CEO of Premier Players International.
Welschof sent Collier a message on Facebook including his height (6'6"), weight (around 250 pounds) and 40 time (4.5). It all sounded great, but to say Collier was a bit skeptical of someone that big running that fast was a bit of an understatement. Then Welschof drove six hours to visit Collier in Wiesbaden, Germany. It was a snowy day, but Collier had space to work out Welschof, who clocked a 4.55 40 and broad-jumped 10'5".
“I became a believer,” Collier told SI. “It’s the most impressive workout I’ve ever seen from a kid 6'6", 6'7". Usually if you see a guy move like that, the kid is probably only 6'1".”
Welschof’s athletic background is rooted in his days as a youth champion moguls skier. Collier says he has video of Welschof—at about 6'6", 220—doing backflips on his skis. Collier, who played under Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown at UMass, took Welschof to Rome in April when the Wolverines were there to “get a feel for what a big-time program is.”
Last summer, Welschof and 14 other international football prospects came with Collier for a tour of several camps that included Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, Old Dominion and Wayne State. Each player was responsible to pick up the tab for his own travel and hotel costs. Collier, who says he spent about $8,000 of his own money on the trip, recalls that Welschof was dominant: “I think he only lost one one-on-one battle the whole trip.”
Welschof picked up several FBS offers, but he says Penn State and Ohio State were skeptical of his film and reluctant to extend him one with their scholarship numbers so tight.
“He’s really raw but his upside is tremendous,” said one of the coaches at another program that had him in camp last summer. “This is a really good get for Michigan. He’s a beautiful kid. He’s going to be 6'6", 280 pounds before too long. His athleticism is really legit.”
That school had Welschof measured at 6'6" and 242 pounds, with a 4.87 40, a 10-foot broad jump and an impressive 4.38-second 20-yard shuttle.
“I knew Coach Brown was intrigued, but I also know that the Michigans of the world have relationships with kids for two or three years,” Collier says. “I didn’t care if it was Michigan, Ohio State, Georgia Tech where he ended up. I just wanted him to get an opportunity to play D-I football.”
The recruitment for Welschof was predictably involved: He committed to Georgia Tech in October, and this month Yellow Jackets defensive line coach Mike Pelton made the trip to Germany for an in-home visit to see Welschof and his family. On Wednesday morning, he explained why he was switching to Michigan.
“It was a hard decision,” Welschof said. “I stayed up last night until three in the morning thinking about every scenario and what is the best for me. I want to thank both of the colleges that gave me this opportunity, but at the end of the day, I have to think about myself. I want to get to the NFL. The best way to do it is with Michigan, with the best coaches, the best players and the best program.”
Collier says that out of the 15 prospects he brought to the U.S. last summer, 10 have D-I scholarship offers. He also noted a 6'5" quarterback from his program in the 2020 recruiting class that is drawing a lot of interest. Three joined Welschof in signing Wednesday: Lorenz Metz, a 6'9", 285-pound offensive tackle from Germany, signed with Cincinnati; Oskar Andersson and Isaac Moore, two Swedish linemen, sent in National Letters of Intent for Temple.
Collier estimates there are between 50 and 100 kids walking around right now in Europe that could help FBS programs. His next combine will be in late January. How PPI develops as a business will be very interesting. “It’s a company, but I’m not generating an income from it,” Collier told SI Wednesday.
He says he does not charge the prospects anything. “That’s the thing. I’m more focused on helping these kids and building a brand. Five years from now. I see this becoming a Rivals.com or 247Sports of Europe. We’ll have the biggest international database. I’m hoping for sponsors and advertising. I’m trying to stay away from charging kids.”
For now, Welschof is the program’s biggest success story and could soon become its biggest advertisement.