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Cardinals' Moubarak Djeri takes long journey in NFL quest

NEWS
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91   //    08 Jun 2018, 05:11 IST

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TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — The journey from the tiny African nation of Togo to the Cologne Crocodiles of the German Football League to the Arizona Cardinals is a very long one.

Now, still learning English, Moubarak Djeri is trying to navigate the tough and often complicated world of the NFL and prove he belongs.

"This experience is really big," he said after the Cardinals went through a voluntary workout Thursday. "That was like a dream for me to be here. Now to see how it's working, how you've got to work hard to make the team and be in the season, it's a really big experience."

The 6-foot-3, 275-pound defensive end came to Arizona on a tryout basis but showed enough ability to sign a contract and earn a spot as one of the 90 players going through offseason drills.

Djeri speaks four languages — German, French, his mother's native tongue of Kotokoli and "just a little English." He has been in the United States for three months.

"My English was not that good before I came here," Djeri said. "I just started learning better the time I was here, like speaking with my other teammates, watching movies. On the field, the coach is speaking English and you just keep understanding what they say."

One of his best new friends is teammate Praise Martin-Oguike, also a defensive end, who was born in Nigeria and moved to the United States at age 10.

"The language barrier, he might not get the communications sometime," Martin-Oguike said. "It's very difficult."

There are other challenges. Martin-Oguike helped Djeri set up a bank account with a debit card to facilitate the automatic deposit of his paycheck. He showed him how to use an Uber app on his phone.

And he provides lots of on-the-job encouragement.

"If I have bad practices, I just think about it and get myself really mad," Djeri said. "Praise says don't think too much about it. Keep going, next play. Tomorrow you're going to get better. It's something to motivate me."

Djeri was born in Lome, the capital city of Togo, a small west African nation sandwiched between Ghana and Benin. One of six children, Djeri is part of a very large extended family. He has 27 aunts and uncles.

At age 11, he moved with his family to Germany and in his late teens, he became interested in American-style football, first joining the Cologne junior team and then advancing to the senior team.

Combined, he played just four years of football. But Cologne assistant coach David Odenthal saw something special in Djeri and put together a highlight tape that eventually caught the attention of the Cardinals. He was one of many tryout players, but one of the few that made the initial cut to become an undrafted rookie.

At 22, he has a long way to go to master the game he loves.

"He's still learning the game," coach Steve Wilks said. "He's just got to continue to get better, keep putting the time in."

The time required is so much different than what he had to do in Germany, Djeri said. He said players in Germany thought they knew what it takes to play in the NFL, but it's much different once it's experienced up close.

"To have it and to feel it is way different than you think," he said. "You've got to be every time on point. We're done now with the practice. We do our lift in 30 minutes. After that, we've got meetings again. After that, you go to the hotel and you study and after that you've got to sleep to be ready for tomorrow."

Djeri sees how the odds must be against him.

"I just ask why are they going to get someone from Europe if they've got a lot of guys from college," he said. "They've got a lot of guys with four years' experience of college football. This is the difficulty to be here."

But he is giving it his all.

"This is what I want to do every day," he said. "After the practice you feel like your body is sore but this is what you want to do. That's why it don't matter how you feel, you've got to keep at it every day to get better."

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