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Dream to strike it rich in NFL

Daily Mail
Monday, April 01, 2013

BRITISH athletics star Lawrence Okoye has revealed his dream to sign for an NFL team and strike it rich as the first sportsman from these shores to become an American Football star.

The 21-year-old, who is the British discus record holder, is in the United States being feted by as many as five leading NFL teams after an American Football trial in Georgia.

Okoye has a second trial next weekend in Dallas but, having discussed potential contracts and been invited for training sessions with NFL teams, the 6ft 6in, 21st athlete is convinced his immediate future lies in gridiron.

If he does make the grade, Okoye, widely tipped to be a future Olympic and world champion despite his disappointing 12th place in last summer's final at London 2012, will not turn his back completely on athletics.

But he would miss the 2013 athletics season, the Diamond League events he had been pencilled in for and, crucially, the World Athletics Championships in August in Moscow.

"I came over to the States for warm-weather training for my discus," explained Okoye, a former London Irish academy winger.

"But when I saw that there was an American Football Regional Combine taking place in Atlanta, I applied online. And when I passed, I went along.

"At the combine, I really stood out because of my size, strength and speed. I don't want to sound arrogant, but I was good on the day — to the point that a lot of NFL clubs began talking to me immediately on the back of it. They all see me as a defensive end, which suits me just fine.

"I've had some meetings since, and done some private workouts with some clubs, too, and already they are talking to me about contracts even before the Super Combine in Dallas next weekend. I'm talking about some of the best known and biggest teams.

"With the college drafts not taking place until the end of April, I won't be officially signing anything or becoming a pro footballer until then, but I have no reason to believe that it's not going to happen."

Okoye has been flirting with the idea of attempting to become one of the first British sportsmen who have lived in this country for most of their lives to succeed in the NFL.

"From my mid-teenage years everyone kept telling me to give American Football a go, and I thought about applying for an American college scholarship when I was 16," he admitted.

"I've always been a huge NFL fan for as long as I can remember and whenever I've arrived in the States the customs officers always ask me who I play for. I want to give this my best shot. It's a rare life opportunity."

Where does this leave his potentially successful athletics career? Okoye insists he is not turning his back on athletics, but discus will be ruled out this season.

"If I sign up at the end of April, then I will be at a mini-camp in May, then full camp from July up to the start of the new season in September. It means I will miss the athletics season and the World Championships.

"But I do not intend to quit athletics completely. The best age to be a discus thrower is your late twenties to around the 30-mark. In the Olympic final that was the average age, even though I was 20. I fully intend to return to throwing the discus when my hopeful football career ends, which could well be around the same time.

"I won't deny that I was very upset after the Olympic final. It didn't go anywhere near as planned. I thought I might win a medal, but I finished 12th, and it means I'll never look back on the London Olympics with fondness.

"It hurts a lot, but it's not the reason I'm doing this. I definitely have plenty of unfinished business in the sport.

"I also hope to compete a little in the discus before then because the Football season is from September to February and, although I will have training commitments and camps, it's possible to combine this with competing for Britain in the discus, but only if it does not compromise my Football.

"I accept that some may question whether I can ever stick at one thing. I was good enough to be a rugby player, and I am good enough to be an international athlete, but American Football has always been a dream for me… and I'm almost there."

As if all this is not enough, Okoye, who helped the independent Whitgift School in Croydon win the Daily Mail Cup playing on the wing and scoring in a Twickenham final, also has a place at Oxford University to read law deferred until 2017. This date was initially agreed so that he could compete at the World Championships inside London's Olympic Stadium.

"I don't know what's going to happen about Oxford, either, and it's something I'll have to deal with once I know how my next years will pan out," he said.

"Although there have been some British-born NFL players, I can't think of many, if any, who have made the grade having been born and lived in the UK all their lives.

"To be a bit of a pioneer really excites me and I hope one of the benefits of becoming a professional is the sport will be less of a novelty back home and more will follow it."

Yet Okoye's plans will stun British athletics. Officials will see the loss of a potential medallist at this summer's World Championships and possibly the 2016 Olympics, as an undoubted blow.

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