Nearly every year during the NFL preseason you hear names of international football players making their bid to join an NFL roster, often from Australia where there is a professional rugby league and Germany where there is a recognised American Football scene.
There aren’t too many names I can think of that try to achieve that goal after spending the majority of their life in Africa, almost none actually. In the 1980’s two Nigerian placekickers Obed Ariri and Donald Igwebuike both kicked for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Ariri also spent some time with the Washington Redskins.
More recently Liberian Tamba Hali, now 34, was a first round pick in 2006 and five time Pro Bowler for the Kansas City Chiefs. Probably the most recognisable African name today, Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah from Ghana who plays as a defensive end for the Detroit Lions, is the only active African player on an NFL roster.
However, there is one promising young man who is hoping to join Ansah and accomplish his goal of playing in the NFL. Chris Akporoghene from Nigeria. Chris moved from Nigeria to Tennessee in 2016 and began playing football for the first time with The King’s Academy high school in Seymour, Tennessee. He initially wanted to play basketball but due to his size, was encouraged to switch his shorts and sneakers for some pads and cleats.
Now in his third year in the States, Chris is a senior in high school playing for one of the top high school football teams, IMG Academy Ascenders. He is part of the best offensive line in high school that paves the way for the best running back tandem of #1 Trey Sanders and #13 Noah Cain according to 24/7 Sports. All three are set to graduate from high school at the end of this school year but Sanders and Cain are yet to choose their college destinations.
Chris will be joined at Tennessee by Wanya Moore, one of the top ranked offensive tackles coming out of high school. Although Chris isn’t one of the highest ranked players in his position, the 33 offers from schools such as Miami, Oregon, Mississippi State, Michigan and Florida among others speaks volumes about his potential as a football player.
The decision to commit to Tennessee would have been made easier by his experience of the state when he first moved to America. In an interview with Louis Fernandez of WBIR-TV after his commitment, he spoke about his connection to former King’s Academy coach Matt Lowe and the Lowe family stating, “they’re my family here”. Chris’ father died when Chris was 11 and still living in Nigeria and so having a father figure like Lowe would have been an important part of Chris’ development as an individual.
American Football is becoming a more international sport every year and if you didn’t know already there is such a thing as European power rankings. The 20 ranked teams are made up of teams from Middle and Eastern Europe with the majority of teams coming from Germany and Poland. International players in the NFL have been few and far between for the most part but with growing interest in the sport outside of it’s native country, it is plausible to think that there is a breakthrough of international players coming in the next decade.
Now, it would be too soon to see an influx in international players considering that the sport is played in the States from pee-wee level, all throughout high school and college. However, when you consider there is someone like Chris Akporoghene who only started to learn how to play the sport less than three years ago and received 33 offers from division one college programs, it is not hard to imagine that there is conceivably a plethora of talented players that, as of now, don’t have the same access to the sport as Americans do.
With growing interest outside of America, especially in Germany and Australia, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more potential football players from Africa give it a go, if not in American high school, in European and Australian leagues.
As for Chris, if he continues to play at a high level and succeeds as a Tennessee Volunteer, we may see him one day in the NFL. For now, let’s see how he and IMG do in his senior year.