'If You Were to Build a Quarterback, This Is What It Would Look Like'

Meet Alexander Honig, the 17-year-old German prospect poised to take college football by storm
photo of Adam KramerAdam Kramer@kegsneggsNational College Football Lead WriterJuly 10, 2019

Back home, where wearing lederhosen is a matter of national pride and antique castles dot every horizon, he might have been considered something of a curiosity. Most kids in Roth—a small town of about 25,000 in Bavaria, Germany—dream of playing a different kind of football.   

But here, Alexander Honig's dream of playing quarterback at the highest level, and the decade he's spent pursuing it, isn't a curiosity. Here, on a tour of football camps on college campuses up and down the East Coast in mid-June, the curiosity is the unique gifts that make him one of the most intriguing quarterback prospects in recent memory.

At nearly 6'6" and 235 pounds, Honig possesses NFL size as a 17-year-old. And the part that has coaches and scouts really interested in the 2021 prospect is what he can do with it.

Honig's 38-inch vertical is better than any quarterback has posted at the NFL combine since Robert Griffin III in 2012, per Pro Football Reference. His 123-inch broad jump would tie for fifth among QBs at the combine in that same time frame. And he complements his hops with a 40-yard dash in the 4.7s and has hands that have been measured at 11 inches—a measurement B/R draft expert Matt Miller says is the largest he's ever heard of.

"He's enormous, strong and athletic," says Barton Simmons, director of scouting for 247Sports. "He has very unique physical traits and a cannon for an arm."

Photo by Jonno Rattman / Special to Bleacher Report

Simmons scouted Honig on a trip to Europe this year. He won't be the last to be blown away, as Honig has now made his way to the States for multiple trips, including this one in June that includes stops at, among other schools, Penn State, West Virginia and Massachusetts—the last being a program that offered him his first scholarship earlier this year.

Honig's voice warms at the thought of long bus rides ahead.

His English is pristine and comes with a German accent that is easy on the ears. He credits his father, James, for helping him perfect his second language. He also credits his father for the path that he has chosen. Not soccer like most teenage boys in Germany. But American football, the sport his father played long before most of the world cared that it existed.

Although Honig is still a long way from being a finished product, curiosity in him has blossomed over the past six months. The scholarship offer from UMass won't be his last. But finding the right college football program is only the next goal for a quarterback trying to make history.

"The dream scenario would be to get the chance to perform in the NFL," Honig says. "I want to be the first European quarterback playing in the NFL. I'm going to work as hard as possible to make it happen."

James Honig attended his first American football practice a few weeks after he turned 15, in Nuremberg. It was 1981, and the perception of the sport in Germany was negative for some and nonexistent for many more.

"Nobody was a real fan of the sport," James says. "People viewed it as being brutal at the time."

The first German team, the Frankfurter Löwen, had been formed only a few years earlier. The Germany Football League was developed shortly after. James knew little about the sport, but he was intrigued even after stumbling through his first practice. The team liked his attitude and the fact that he spoke English, so they put him at nose guard. Eventually he found a home at linebacker.

Over the next 15 years, he appeared in two European Championships and made the German All-Star team. In 1996, he stopped playing to focus on his occupation, teaching, and Susanne, his wife, whom he married the following year. They would go on to have two boys, Christian and Alexander.

In 2008, at the age of 41, James made his return to football for a local club team. He switched to the offensive line and was mostly there to assist and guide younger players. More than anything, he just wanted to be around the game again.

This time, though, his two sons often came to watch. A seed was planted.

"I played soccer like every German kid does, but I wanted to start something new," Alexander says. "My dad didn't force me to play football. I'm not sure he even wanted me to play, honestly. It was my own decision after watching it. I quickly fell in love with the sport."

At the age of eight, he started playing flag football. At 14, only three years ago, he put on pads and began playing tackle football for the first time.

Honig has rooted for the Patriots and counted Tom Brady as his favorite player since his dad brought him back a documentary of their 2004 Super Bowl season from a trip to the United States. Ultimately, it helped him form a bond with the quarterback position.

He has since graduated to watching televised football games, which are now shown in Germany more often, as interest in the sport has increased. And when games aren't on, he'll watch Last Chance U and Blue Mountain State, consuming football any way he can.

Out of breath and drenched in sweat, Jim Harbaugh approached Honig inside the team's indoor football complex. It was 2017, and Michigan's head coach had just wrapped up a drill with the quarterbacks attending, including Honig, at one of the program's camps.

Harbaugh's active, hands-on approach appealed to Honig—then a 15-year-old trying to absorb as much about the position as possible in his first trip to the United States.

Having heard about Honig's 11-inch hands, Harbaugh wanted to confirm the measurement himself. He put his palm up to Honig's palm—a hand typically found on NBA power forwards and not teenage quarterbacks. When his measurement checked out, Harbaugh couldn't help but joke with the QB and crack a smile.

Photo by Jonno Rattman / Special to Bleacher Report

In Germany, Honig is a unicorn. In many instances, he is towering over the rest of the field. "I'm pretty fortunate with my physicality," he says politely on his athletic gifts.

Those gifts were first put to use with the Nürnberg Rams near his hometown. In 2016, however, he left this club in search of greater competition. He now stars for the Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns—one of the better youth football teams in Germany.

While his ability is frequently on display, the evaluation of him, as is the case with most German football players, can be complicated. He doesn't have an array of statistics to provide for college coaches. And even if he did, it's challenging to compare his performance to the competition.

Exposure can also be difficult to come by and opportunities to make an impression on a coach limited. Honig uses his Twitter bio as one way to celebrate and spread his testing results (without question his most powerful football currency). He has also contacted coaches on his Twitter account and provided his highlights.

"I want to perform and get better at the things Americans kind of have a head start at," Honig says. "Playing against better opponents with faster defenses and throwing through smaller windows. I understand there is a long way to go, but I want to be better."

Simmons, who scouted Honig earlier this year, marveled at his size and speed and the power behind his throws. At the same time, the difference in coaching and experience was evident.

"I don't think he has the same innate timing as maybe some of the other guys you might see in the U.S.," Simmons says. "Obviously, he's also throwing to a really broad spectrum of talent. But when you look at him, you see an upside project who has great physical tools. I just think he will need time to develop and get reps in a real, high-level system in America."

In May, an assistant coach from UMass visited Germany to check in on the development of some of the players for future classes. The coach saw enough in Honig to extend a scholarship offer.

When Honig returned home that night to tell his father the news, James engulfed his son in a hug. 

"He was amazed," Alexander recalls. "He dreamed about going to the States and playing when he was a kid. But there was never the possibility for him to get the exposure. He's kind of living his own dream with me, and I love that we can experience this together."

Although he calls Frankfurt, Germany, home these days, Brandon Collier grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. He went to UMass as a defensive lineman, graduating in 2009. After he tried to latch on with an NFL team, he eventually landed in Paris and Austria to continue his career.

It was here that he got a glimpse of the passion and skill levels of players who were and remain largely out of sight—an observation he stocked away as he tried to further his own football career.

After finally getting an NFL shot, with the Philadelphia Eagles, Collier suffered in injury that ultimately brought him back to Europe. He played in Frankfurt before tearing his ACL in 2016. This time around, however, he turned his observations of the talent level overseas into a full-time responsibility.

"I started to see a lot of young talent that I knew that could play college football," Collier says. "After my surgery, I started networking and talking to as many coaches as I could about placing kids in football programs around the world."

Collier started Premier Players International (PPI)—a recruiting database designed to help football players around the globe land in college football programs. Knowing just how difficult exposure can be for international athletes, Collier serves as a conduit between players and coaches. In the past three years, he has helped more than 50 players from 10 countries earn college football scholarships.

But perhaps no player has excited him quite like Honig, whom he began working with when Alexander was just 14. And not just because of Honig's size and athletic promise but also because of the challenge that comes with placing quarterbacks.

"When I first met Alexander, I knew that he had something special," Collier says. "If you were to build a quarterback, this is what it would look like.

Photo by Jonno Rattman / Special to Bleacher Report

"But coaches can't miss on that position. That's how you lose your job. It's the most difficult position anywhere to gain attention anywhere, and it's even harder for European quarterbacks."

Last year, Collier helped Luke Wentz, a friend of Honig's, land a football scholarship at Virginia. It marked the first time a European QB earned a scholarship from a Division I program.

While the list of European quarterbacks is small, Germany has had a handful of intriguing prospects emerge in the United States. Björn Werner, who grew up in Berlin, found a home at Florida State before landing in the NFL as a defensive end. Julius Welschof, who is from Bavaria, is at Michigan on the defensive line. Offensive lineman Sebastian Vollmer, born in Kaarst, is the most decorated German product to date; after attending Houston, he won two Super Bowls with the Patriots before retiring in 2017.

Simmons, the scouting director for 247, thinks Honig could fit right in among that group. "Alexander is a great example of the European phenomenon," he says.

Collier takes it even further, saying Honig could be the player for future European prospects to model themselves after. And while he's partial to the school he graduated from, he knows there could be more out there for his prized QB.

 "I would love to predict he'll sign with UMass and bring us the national championship," Collier says. "But honestly, I could see him playing at Notre Dame or a USC or another major program.

"You get him and develop him for two years or so, and I just see something amazing happening."

After touching down in New York City, Honig and more than a dozen other German football players hopped aboard busses and have made stops at UMass, Penn State, Duke, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina in this mid-June trip.

The goal is to expose these players to college football. But larger than that, this is about providing them with access to programs and coaching staffs—the most significant barrier for any European player.

At South Carolina, Honig falls in love with the team's lavish new football facility. At Duke, he picks the brain of David Cutcliffe, the quarterback whisperer. At UMass, the reality of his next step becomes more real as he starts to visualize what life would look like on campus.

At each stop, Honig wows in his testing, something that has always been natural. When it comes to actually throwing, he is his own harshest critic—saying some days were certainly better than others. Given where he is in his development, such should be the expectation.

But the wealth of gifts is undeniable. So much so that one Penn State assistant asks Honig to try a few reps at tight end. Honig obliges, winning all three reps over his opponent with relative ease—surprising himself at how natural it feels.

Photo by Jonno Rattman / Special to Bleacher Report

"I think you're a really good QB," the assistant coach tells him afterward. "But I think you could be an NFL tight end."

The moment provides something more to think about—an outlet that could allow his physical attributes to flourish in a way he never previously considered.

For now, though, his heart is set on finding the right place to play quarterback. It's the position he's been groomed to play, in a world where such a path is rarely traveled.


Adam Kramer covers college football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @KegsnEggs.


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