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Culture

'Germanator' Tackles American Football

Another German athlete looks ready to follow in basketball star Dirk Nowitzki's footsteps and seek sports fame in the US. The new name to remember is Constantin Ritzmann and he's playing in the National Football League.

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Ritzmann (6) fulfilled his dream of giving and taking a NFL beating

When Ritzmann steps onto the field as defensive end for the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 12, he'll be the first German to play in America's professional football league.

NFL scouts in Europe call the 24-year-old one of Germany's best prospects, a sentiment he confirmed during his time at the University of Tennessee, where the 6-foot-3-inch, 254-pound (190 cm, 114 kg) man from Berlin captained the team in 2003 after missing the entire 2002 season with a knee injury.

It was a solid performance in training camp that set Ritzmann apart from three other German players looking for positions on NFL teams and earned him a two-year contract with the Buffalo Bills, where he'll wear number 91.

"I'm still a little shocked," he said of his success. "For me it's not all quite real yet."

Constantin Ritzmann erster deutscher Feldspieler in der NFL

Ritzmann at the University of Tennessee

Ritzmann's career advancement began in earnest during his last year at the University of Tennessee where he was the only defensive lineman to start every game, sacked opposing quarterbacks three times on his own, once assisting, and tallied a total of 52 tackles.

German fans love local teams

Though not a hotbed of American football, Germany does have a professional league with 11 teams. Most players in the German league are American professionals who didn't get a full-time spot on NFL teams. But that doesn't stop their fans from filling stadiums in Berlin and Frankfurt from cheering for the local team, although some believe the cheerleaders bring as many fans to the stadium as the game's touchdowns do.

Ritzmann also once played for the Berlin Adler and Hamburg Blue Devils in the German league, but at the age of 18 went to the United States while taking part in an NFL development program.

As an exchange student, he attended North Florida Christian High School and played one year of football there. The school won the state championship and Ritzmann earned a spot on Florida's state squad.

Two-year contract worth $500,000

As a first-year NFL player, Ritzmann will earn the league minimum of $230,000 per year, but said he knows he'll have to prove himself before he's able to command a salary comparable to the $98 million quarterback Peyton Manning will earn in seven years.

"Of course it would be great if I could sack one of the big quarterbacks like Donovan McNabb or Peyton Manning," Ritzmann said. "And I'm sure that's going to happen in the future."

Opposing players may want to listen -- he hasn't been wrong about his career yet.

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