Germany's Sebastian Vollmer does not see himself as another Dirk Nowitzki when it comes to sparking interest for a sport in his homeland by winning a championship at the highest level.
But the 27-year-old offensive tackle for the New England Patriots hopes his exploits in American football and Sunday's Super Bowl 46 showdown between his team and New York Giants might inspire some young Germans to join him in the NFL.
"I wouldn't compare myself to Dirk. He's a great athlete and he has done so many great things in his league," Vollmer said. "But I hope coverage picks up in Germany and we get a few more guys over here."
Nowitzki powered the Dallas Mavericks to last year's NBA crown, lifting his team over favored Miami in the NBA Finals to spoil the title dream of LeBron James and raising the profile of basketball in Germany to new heights.
Vollmer found his way to the gridiron aged 14 after deciding he wanted a team sport rather than swimming. Instead of Bundesliga football, Vollmer began following the NFL and the nearest NFL Europe's team, Dusseldorf's Rhein Fire.
"I was following the game, watching the Super Bowl in the middle of the night," Vollmer said.
"Once I stopped swimming, I wanted a team sport. American football seemed a perfect fit. I just picked up a book and learned it and then went out there and played. Don't be ashamed about it. Just play."
Vollmer joined the Dusseldorf Panthers prep club team, won two national titles and found his way onto a European junior all-star squad and played in a game in San Diego that brought him attention from US college scouts.
Vollmer signed at the University of Houston and taught himself English, making the most of his chance and becoming a second-round selection of the Patriots, 58th overall, in the 2009 NFL Draft.
"He has got it all -- gifted athlete, very tough, unbelievable strength, smart guy," Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia said. "He has worked very hard and is still working hard."
Vollmer has struggled with foot and back injuries this season that have kept him out of the lineup and make him a doubt for Sunday.
"It's hard," Vollmer said. "You want to be part of the team. You are doing very different things. You just want to get back and help the team out.
"I wish I could have done more but I will do my best on Sunday."
A stomach virus kept him from Super Bowl Media Day, but Vollmer said on Wednesday that he feels fine.
"I was under the weather but I'm getting better. I'm doing all right," said Vollmer. "I don't think it has taken too much away. It's an amazing experience. You try to take it all in and not let it take away from your preparation.
"If I get called upon, I'll be ready."
After filming video clips to be shown in Germany to promote TV coverage of the Super Bowl, Vollmer said he is ready to play for the first time in months and has done well in full-pad workouts.
"I've practiced for a little while now," he said. "Once you are in the Super Bowl, adrenaline is going, you?re motivated, you just try to do your best. When you haven?t hit anybody in a while, the first game back is always tough going."
Facing a Giants' team known for rushing passers like Patriots star Tom Brady adds to the challenge.
"They are strong and extremely fast," Vollmer said. "You have to slow them down and give Tom some time. They will all be coming hard."
Source: AFP Global Edition