The recent trend of giving Rugby players a go in the NFL isn’t a big thing yet, but it might turn into a more relevant phenomenon if someone like Lawrence Okoye proves to be a success for the San Francisco 49ers.
Okoye, 23, isn’t just a rugby player. Born in London to Nigerian parents, he turned a very promising Rugby Union career (was one of the best players in England as a teenager) into athletics, becoming a Discus thrower, a gold medal at the 2011 European Athletics U23 Championships in July 2011 at the age of 19. He competed in the London Olympics, making the finals. He ended up in twelfth place with a throw of 61.03m. After the competition he expressed disappointment with his placing in the final.
Before the 2013 NFL draft quite a few teams showed their interest in the 6’6, 304 lbs athlete, despite never playing American Football in his life. He had an impressive combine which didn’t help him get picked, but got signed by the 49ers on April 27. He has been hovering around the final roster ever since. This year, with the retirement of Justin Smith, the many departures from the defense and the head coach hiring of Jim Tomsula, the former defensive line coach (the position in which Okoye will play), things are looking up.
Is he promised a spot in the lineup? Not even in the roster. But after two years of practicing with the Niners and working towards that goal, it seems that Okoye finally has a chance to take it to the next level in a new sport, in which he has a chance to perform rather well, and maybe open up a new stream of talent to a league that’s always looking for new ways to hurt other leagues and sports.