Osi Umenyiora says an NFL game in Africa is 'not far-fetched'

ByLeonard Solms ESPN logo
Tuesday, September 19, 2023

CAPE TOWN - Former New York Giants star and Super Bowl winner Osi Umenyiora told ESPN that Africa hosting an NFL game is no longer a distant dream.

Speaking at the NFL Experience event, which he attended with fellow former NFL players Kenny Stills, Gary Anderson and Steven Jackson, the Nigerian talent developer said when asked if Africa was ready to host: "100%.

"We've had these conversations before, and you see what's going on out here... it's an incredible thing, and I don't think a game being played out here is far-fetched. I think it's going to happen at some point. We just don't know when."

With Umenyiora at the Experience event was legendary Pittsburgh Steelers kicker Anderson, who was born and raised in South Africa. Anderson said that the growth of the NFL in the region was more than he expected: "It's really amazing to be here in Cape Town and see the interest, and increased knowledge on the game of football.

"I can tell you, early in my career, when occasionally I would come back home to South Africa and I would be in Durban visiting some of my high school teammates, they had no idea [about American football]."

Umenyiora, who has headed up the NFL's development in Africa with his successful Uprise camps, has seen first hand the talent, and growing interest levels, in Africa for the game.

Six of the eight IPP players allocated to NFL rosters ahead of this pre-season were Nigerian - Chukwuebuka Godrick (Kansas City Chiefs), David Agoha (Las Vegas Raiders), CJ Okoye (Los Angeles Chargers), Kenneth Odumegwu (Green Bay Packers), Roy Mbaeteka (Chicago Bears) and Haggai Chisom Ndubuisi (Denver Broncos).

Mbaeteka and Ndubuisi were on NFL rosters ahead of last season too [Mbaeteka with the New York Giants and Ndubuisi with the Arizona Cardinals], while the other four players joined the IPP Program via last year's NFL Africa Touchdown camp in Ghana.

Umenyiora told ESPN: "Without a doubt, [they exceeded my expectations], especially some of them.

"Chu Godrick is somebody who a lot of people weren't talking about, but he probably had the most impressive performance out of all the players. He played a bunch of snaps, didn't give up any sacks, no pressures, no nothing, so he held it down out there.

"David Agoha played very well. Everybody did their thing, so we're really excited about what they did and we're even more excited about what's to come in the future.

"I think it's a difficult process and it's a learning process. I came from Troy University. I got drafted in the second round and I barely played my first year. For them, this year is going to be a real learning experience - a real learning process for them. They've got to learn the speed of the game.

"These guys have never played football before at any level, so to get thrown into the lions' den of the NFL and for some of them to perform the way they did is a pure example of the heart, the talent and the hunger that we have here in Africa, so this year, they're just going to learn and then next year, we expect them to take the next step forward in their development."

Umenyiora also urged the University of Tennessee's Emmanuel Okoye, who he sent from the NFL Africa Touchdown camp to the NFL Academy to develop for college football, not to be too hard on himself this year if he does not feature.

"Emmanuel actually thought he was going to go out and play this year, which I thought was crazy," said Umenyiora with a fond chuckle.

"He just said that he thought he had that kind of ability, but I'd prefer for them to redshirt him, so he can really, really adjust, and then I think he's going to be a superstar player."

Both the NFL and College Football air on ESPN's channels in Africa.

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