The NFL’s Search for International Players Hasn’t Slowed Down

Several Nigerian players are in training camps this preseason

CJ Okoye in the middle of a tackle
Quarterback Stetson Bennett of the Los Angeles Rams is sacked by defensive tackle CJ Okoye of the Los Angeles Chargers.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

When the subject of Nigerian athletes competing in the sport of football comes up, your mind might go to the variety of the sport also known as soccer. There are a number of entirely understandable reasons for that — not the least of which being that the Nigerian men’s soccer team has competed in several World Cups in recent years, and Nigerian players like Victor Osimhen have succeeded at the sport’s highest level.

There’s a growing influx of Nigerian athletes to the other kind of football, however — part of, as Roman Stubbs writes for The Washington Post, the International Pathway Program, a league-wide initiative to bring promising international football talent to the NFL. Stubbs’s article focuses on Haggai Chisom Ndubuisi, a defensive tackle currently in the Denver Broncos’ training camp. NBC Sports, meanwhile, recently wrote about defensive lineman CJ Okoye, who is seeking a spot with the Los Angeles Chargers.

Okoye recently made headlines for sacking the Rams’ Stetson Bennett, then commenting afterwards that he hadn’t realized what he’d done was a sack. “I thought he was out of the pocket, so I thought it was a tackle or something,” he told Rich Eisen in an interview. It wasn’t until his teammates let him know the full implication of what he’d done that he celebrated his accomplishment.

The Post‘s article on Ndubuisi noted that he learned football by watching videos on YouTube in his hometown. As for Okoye, the aforementioned sack took place in his first time playing a competitive game in the sport. Stubbs described both Ndubuisi and Okoye as “long shots to make their teams’ 53-man rosters.” He also pointed out that the International Pathway Program has provisions for players to remain on teams’ practice squads should that not be the case.

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It might seem daunting to travel from continent to continent to pursue a dream of playing a sport where many players’ professional careers are infamously short. Though given the size of the crowds the league draws when it holds games overseas, maybe the allure of an NFL career isn’t that difficult to understand.

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