LONDON — As the NFL continues to try to spread its game across the globe, Sebastian Vollmer is proof that it has roots in other countries.
The Patriots right tackle was born and raised in Kaarst, Germany, and first played football there. He eventually came to the United States because of the game, earning a scholarship to the University of Houston, and then being drafted by New England.
“I just tried it out one time and I liked it,” Vollmer said. “I liked the physicality of it and the team sport approach and I guess I just got hooked on it.”
Vollmer is one of four Patriots who were born outside of the United States. Zoltan Mesko was born in Romania and lived there until his father won a green card lottery to come to the United States when he was 11. Two not-so-obvious ones are Kyle Love, who was born in South Korea when his father was stationed there with the Army, and Visanthe Shiancoe, who was born in Birmingham, England, but his family came to the United States when he was a baby.
Vollmer has seen the popularity of the NFL grow in his native country, and once or twice a season German sports reporters make the trip to Foxborough to catch up with him and his progress.
“I think it’s great,” he said. “I think when I first started [playing] the media coverage wasn’t what it is. I don’t think anything competes with soccer, but I think it’s growing. I think it’s great, and bringing the sport here to London, I think it’s a great first step to grow the sport.”
When the league had NFL Europe, the teams in Germany fared better than those in other countries. Vollmer can’t explain why that was, but that is how he learned about the game and why he and his friends began playing it.
Mesko did not play football while in Romania, instead learning to be a kicker and then punter after his family had settled in Ohio. But being back in Europe gives family members still in Romania the chance to see him play.
“On a personal level, I think it was important so I could see my family from Europe,” he said. “I mentioned earlier that it was kind of icing on the cake in that it’s very cool to be here at such an amazing place to play.”
Apparently “Gronk” translates very well overseas.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski, one of five Patriots to take part in an NFL fan rally at Trafalgar Square on Saturday, delighted the crowd when he responded to its request and enthusiastically spiked the microphone on stage.
Tom Brady, Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, and Mesko were the other players who took part, along with coach Bill Belichick and owner Robert Kraft.
Weak no more
When the schedule was released in April, the Patriots were determined to have the easiest based on the 2011 results of their 13 opponents.
But the NFC West, which many believed would be the weakest division in the NFL, has been the strongest. In fact, two of the Patriots’ three losses are against NFC West teams.
The Rams, the Patriots’ opponents on Sunday, are 3-4, but two of their wins have come against then-unbeaten Arizona and Seattle, teams that edged out the Patriots.
Belichick was asked if there’s a particular reason the Patriots have struggled against NFC West opponents.
“We’ve had a little bit of trouble with those games, we just didn’t play well enough,” he said shortly after the team arrived in London.
“The Rams present a lot of issues. They’re very good defensively: fast, good pass-rush team, good coverage team, they have a lot of good corners. Offensively, the running backs are very talented, of course, [Steven] Jackson and [rookie Daryl] Richardson. They have an explosive group of receivers.
“They’re very competitive from where they were last year. They’re young, but they’re good. They play hard, they’re fast, they’re aggressive, so there will be a lot of challenges.”
Belichick credited new coach Jeff Fisher for the Rams’ improved play despite St. Louis being one of the youngest teams in the league.
New England will host San Francisco, the fourth NFC West team and considered by many one of the top teams in football, Dec. 16.
Williams added to roster
The Patriots promoted defensive back Malcolm Williams from the practice squad for Sunday’s game. Williams, drafted last year out of Texas Christian, is considered primarily a special teams player. He fills the roster spot that opened when Ras-I Dowling recently was placed on injured reserve.