LONDON (AFP) –
British discus thrower Lawrence Okoye has embarked on a remarkable bid to become an American Football star even though he has never played the sport.
The 21-year-old from Croydon, south London, finished 12th in the Olympic Games’ discus final last August.
But while on a discus training camp in the United States at the start of this month he decided to apply to try out for the National Football League (NFL).
That meant attending Atlanta’s Regional Combine, the first round of selections. There, he impressed to be chosen for the Super Regional Combine in Dallas, in front of all 32 NFL teams.
Now Okoye has been given the chance to enter the NFL draft at Radio City Music Hall in New York from April 25-27.
Over seven rounds, teams have the chance to sign players – mostly from US colleges – with the Kansas City Chiefs, the worst team from last year’s season, making the first selection.
Showing off some of the drills he has learnt already, with the help of the London Warriors at the London Soccerdome in Greenwich, Okoye on Wednesday explained American Football had always been something he wanted to try.
“I don’t want to look back in 50 years and think I missed out on this opportunity,” said Okoye, whose transition to discus from being a coveted rugby player at school was swift enough to break the British record two seasons running.
He only received proper training from the age of 18, having deferred a law degree at Oxford to pursue an opportunist dream of competing at the Games in his home country.
While admitting he had achieved nothing yet, he has set his sights high and wants to become an elite player in a league where the top stars are rewarded with multi-million dollar contracts.
“Success would be becoming a dominant player in the league,” he said. “I feel like I have the talent to get it done. I wouldn’t count success as being on the roster for years and not playing.
“In 2010, when I started discus, nobody would have thought that I would have got to the level I did in two years, so I’m looking at doing something similar.
“This is a different ball game and it is going to be tough.”
Okoye has already visited last year’s Super Bowl runners-up the San Francisco 49ers, as well as several other teams, to show off his talents.
He can take heart from the success of Michael Carter, who won a silver medal in shot put at the 1984 Olympics and went onto have a dominant NFL career with the 49ers.
But he is not setting himself a timescale, despite having previously said he might return to discus, arguing throwers do not reach their peak until their late 20s.
“I’m not going to put a limit on it,” he said. “I could be playing next year, or in two years, or in four years.
“For all I know, this could happen slowly or quickly.”
Okoye, whose father played for his college American Football side in Nebraska, believes the skills set required to excel in discus and rugby can also be put to good use in the NFL.
“The discus is all about producing power from the ground up and that is what football is all about and what playing in the line of defence is all about – and from rugby I know a lot about foot placements and how to make tackles,” he said.
“But you can transfer as many skills from the sports as you want, it’s no replacement for playing the game itself and obviously I have no experience of playing football, so that’s what I’ve got to keep working on.
“It’s something that I want to prove to myself more than anything. I’ve had whispers in my ear for a long time saying I should be in this and I finally decided I’m going to try.”