Emmanuel Okoye: The NFL Academy prospect sought after by the national champs and Deion Sanders after being found by Osi Umenyiora

Emmanuel Okoye: The NFL Academy prospect sought after by the national champs and Deion Sanders after being found by Osi Umenyiora

Where does Emmanuel Okoye's college future lie?
Where does Emmanuel Okoye’s college future lie?

Emmanuel Okoye, remember the name. The blossoming protege of two-time Super Bowl champion Osi Umenyiora and one of the latest NFL Academy success stories with college football powerhouses queuing eagerly at his doorstep.

Once a LeBron James wannabe, once a kid playing street soccer in Nigeria and once oblivious to sacks, pressures and all edge-rushing lexicon, he is now generating buzz as one of the most coveted international prospects bound for the States.

Okoye’s list of interested parties is currently headlined by the back-to-back reigning national champion Georgia Bulldogs, with 15 offers becoming 16 on Friday as Lincoln Riley’s USC entered the fold to join the likes of Nebraska, Ole Miss and Tennessee.

“Life is going great you know, I’m very grateful for the position I’m in,” Okoye told Sky Sports. “This time last year I wouldn’t have thought I’d be in this position so all that’s happened from then to now, it’s been a blessing.

“I saw myself going in this position through basketball because I loved basketball, I was always working hard putting my blood and sweat in to get to where I wanted to be but I never thought of myself playing football.”

Okoye’s discovery came by way of the NFL’s expansion into Africa spearheaded by former New York Giants pass rusher Umenyiora, whose Uprise Programme fed six players to this year’s International Player Pathway programme.

“I used to play basketball so last year around spring Osi Umenyiora organised the Uprise Camp in Nigeria,” said Okoye. “I was discovered by Educational Basketball, it was a basketball programme run by Oluwatobilaiyemi Adepitan and Iseoluwapolaiyemi Adepitan and gave me the opportunity to get a space at the Uprise camp.

“Osi saw me and my potential and what I could become so I made it to the NFL Africa camp in Ghana.

“We had a meeting after the camp, he told me I was one of the youngest but that he could see my potential and that I could become a great football player some day. I was just like ‘thank you’. He’s seen it now and he’s happy he invested in me.

“Osi was a phenomenal player, nobody needs to tell you to check him up and see what he did. Being close to such a level of greatness is a blessing. Him giving tips, talking to him is a great thing to do. The advice he gives is really what leads you through life and the game.”

His lasting impression culminated in a move to England where the NFL Academy awaited as his new home from home and the next step on an accelerated path to college football.

“Players at the IPP were part of the NFL Africa camp, I was under 18 so me and three others came over,” he recalled. “Because we were under 18 we could go to the Academy and develop and then either go to college or pursue the IPP.

“I’m grateful to have colleges recognise my potential and give me the opportunity to chase football and study. Being at the Academy has been great, I’m here to do my best to develop, I get my head down, be a student of the game, be coachable, create great relationships. It’s been a great experience, the Academy is like a brotherhood.”

Okoye in action at the NFL Academy
Okoye in action at the NFL Academy

Of the move from Nigeria to the United Kingdom, he points out a “vast” difference in the weather. Perhaps an understatement.

Be it Africa or Europe, sport was always the path.

“I grew up in Lagos, where I grew up was more of like an active area, everybody is into soccer, everybody plays soccer,” he said. “If you go to the streets you’ll see boys playing soccer, there’s no way you can’t get involved as a young boy. My growing up was fun, my parents doing their best to provide for the family and it was really great growing up.

“I wasn’t really watching football, it was just basketball, basketball, basketball. I never thought of myself of playing football until last year.

“I looked up to players like Ja Morant, Jayson Tatum, LeBron James, people that set the tone. I just wanted to use that to push myself.”

He admits there was initial scepticism from mum over football’s physicality. Now she couldn’t be prouder.

Okoye is gearing up for a cross-state business trip this spring as he makes his official college visits in view of enrolling at his chosen programme this summer. Let the wooing race for his commitment begin.

“At the beginning it was shocking, coming into football this early and already receiving recognition from schools was different,” he said. “I have people with me, Osi, the coaches, helping me through it so I was able to get through it easily so it wasn’t that big of a deal. I’m just enjoying the moment and trying to be present and enjoy the process.”

Despite being something of a newcomer, even Okoye needed little explanation as to the enormity of an offer from Georgia and the accompanying opportunity to learn within Kirby Smart’s all-action defense.

“I know Georgia, everybody knows Georgia,” he laughed. “They’ve won the Championship back to back so it’s a really good football programme, with the players they’ve produced you know the development programme will be a great one. I was really happy for them to recognise my potential. It’s a blessing, what can I say?”

An offer would also come in from the Deion Sanders-led Colorado, where the NFL Academy already boasts representation in the form of linebacker Kofi Taylor-Barrocks and tight end Seydou Traore, who arrived via transfer following a standout season at Arkansas State.

So have the London duo sought to lure another Academy product to the Pac-12 programme?

“Haha, no,” smiled Okoye. “I’ve had conversations with them. Kofi is enjoying it there but he just wants the best for me, he’s not trying to lure me and is just giving me the best advice. As somebody who has been in my position he just gives me good advice and how to evaluate stuff like college life.

“It comes down to the coaching staff, they have to have the players interests at heart, somewhere I can fit in, somewhere that has a great environment, a winning culture, great academics too. Just somewhere I can develop as a player and a person.”

He promises the college to which he commits a “humble, enthusiastic, coachable individual” who is more than willing to learn.

Right now in his learning process he finds himself watching a lot of Washington Commanders defensive end Chase Young, while it has also been suggested Okoye could yet move to tight end. In which case, he is ready for both.

“Right now, I’m a guy that can move. If I get to college it depends,” he said. “I know I will dominant in any position, I’m working on both. I’m working on my hands, I work on my movement, some of the edge skills apply to the offense so I just keep trying to work on my movements and improve overall. Some schools are putting me as a tight end and some as an edge so it just depends.”

The numbers jump off the sheet, the speed at which he has seemingly picked up the game coupled with what he claims to be a 4.5 40-yard dash at 6’5″ 230lbs explaining excitement over his ceiling.

He vows to get even quicker, by the way.

The NFL was never the dream nor in the realms of possibility before, so he refuses to get ahead of himself. With that said, he knows he is trending towards something special.

“I’m taking it one step at a time. I’m not rushing into anything. I’m just enjoying the process, right now I’m at the NFL Academy and trying to utilise this opportunity the best way I can. I try to be the best at what I do, and when I get to college I’ll do the same again.

“It (football) is in the process of changing it (his life). I’m nowhere yet, I’m still climbing. Looking back to where I came from it’s a vast difference and I’m just grateful to be here.”

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