ORLANDO, Fla. — As the top high school football players in the country made their way through the Orlando World Center Marriott on the first day of Under Armour All-America Game week, one prospect stood out among the rest.
Not because he towered over everyone at 6-foot-7, 280 pounds, but because he looked lost.
Valentin Senn was on American soil for just the third time in his life and trying to navigate a maze of a hotel, where unfamiliar faces were guiding him from station to station as he checked in for the high school all-star game.
Senn is from Volders, Austria, has only been playing football for three years and has been handling the recruiting process from an entirely different continent, with parents who knew nothing about American football. The three-star offensive lineman signed with Colorado in December after a whirlwind recruiting process that earned him nine Division I offers in two weeks.
“It’s really crazy,” Senn said. “I wasn’t expecting to get so many offers. … Maybe I would try and get one and I wouldn’t know if I would want to do it, but then I got this. It’s just really crazy how it worked out.”
Crazy is an understatement.
Volders, a village outside Innsbruck with approximately 4,500 inhabitants, is surrounded by the Alps, so winter sports are the pride. However, Senn played soccer most of his life and even played trumpet in the Swarovski Orchestra and sang in the Stimmpfeffer choir.
It wasn’t until a friend urged him to go out for the Swarco Raiders, a local under-19 club team, that Senn decided to give American football a shot. He instantly fell in love.
“I started three years ago as a wide receiver,” Senn said. “Size-wise, I was the same height [then as now] , but I gained some weight and moved from receiver to tight end, and now I am playing my second year on offensive line. It’s really crazy how everything worked out, because before I was playing soccer for 11 years, and I’m glad I made that change.”
Senn soon realized he wanted an opportunity to play at a higher level. In order to do that, he would need to cross the Atlantic Ocean and try to gain a scholarship to play collegiately in America.
Swarco Raiders coach Shuan Fatah reached out to Bjoern Werner, the only German ever chosen in the first-round of the NFL draft, for help. Werner became a mentor, adviser and intermediary for Senn.
“I wanted to help the next generation because I know there’s a lot more talent like me out there just in Germany and Europe in general,” Werner said. “They just need an opportunity sometimes, because it’s so hard to come to the United States. You need the opportunity, but [that] can be hard because of financials, visas, all that stuff that a normal American student doesn’t have to think about.”
Senn and a group of other European hopefuls joined Werner on a 14-day trip to various college camps across the U.S. in June. With no offers and no real expectations of what was about to happen, Senn traveled to America for the first time in his life.
The tour started at Rutgers, where Senn earned an offer from Towson. A second camp at UConn earned him an offer from the Huskies. He eventually earned offers from Akron, Buffalo and a few other smaller schools.
The coaches at Colorado got wind that Senn was touring and impressing at the camps and invited him out to their camp on June 10.
He attended, was offered by the Buffaloes’ coaches and committed two weeks later. In the short amount of time he was on campus, Senn felt at home. The mountains surrounding Boulder reminded him of his hometown in the Alps.
When he received his scholarship offers, he sent a text message to his parents to tell them the news. Their response wasn’t all that spectacular, because they didn’t fully understand the magnitude of what their son had just accomplished.
“They’re not so much into football, because in Austria it’s not a big thing,” Senn said. “Now, they have accepted that I love it, and they support me with my love for football.”
It wasn’t until they accompanied Valentin on his official visit to Colorado in October that it really hit them their son had an opportunity to play football on the highest level in America after only three years of playing the sport.
“After the official visit at Colorado … I think that was the point where they were comfortable with the whole thing,” Senn said.
Comfortable with their son traveling across the ocean to a foreign land, playing a foreign sport and taking a shot at a dream.
“I don’t have many expectations of what will happen. I’m just ready for everything that will challenge me,” Senn said. “I’m up for trying to be the best possible me. That’s one reason why I’m going to college, because I don’t want to have any regrets, and I don’t want to feel sorry for myself if I don’t take this chance.”