Potential Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Kenneth Odumegwu has never met former franchise quarterback Aaron Rodgers. A year ago he’d only vaguely heard of the now-Jets QB, and Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes, but that was as far as his NFL knowledge went.

He’d never even touched a football, back then.

Like many tall and talented Nigerian teens, Odumegwu, who was recently allocated to the Packers via the NFL’s International Player Pathway programme, was aiming for the NBA last year, when a scout in Nigeria changed his sporting direction.

Odumegwu [22] is one of a few Nigerian basketballers scouted by American football mentors like Osi Umenyiora’s Uprise programme in Lagos in recent years, many of whom, like the Los Angeles ChargersCJ Okoye, have reached the IPP with little more than a basic education in football.

Now, having joined the Packers in a crash-course-in-football preseason, the Nigerian had nothing but good words to say about his ‘helpful’ team-mates, notably the only starting quarterback he’s ever encountered at Lambeau Field and surrounds, Jordan Love.

Odumegwu told ESPN: “Jordan Love actually gave me a lift to the training facility from the building today. He’s a very nice person – down to earth.

“The first time I spoke to him, he was like: ‘How are you doing? How are you finding it here? How’s Nigeria?’ He was curious to know more about me. He’s a very cool person.”

He added: “To be honest, every one of them [has been helpful]. On the training ground, they tell me: ‘Ok, you line up here…’ Running backs – Aaron Jones, [AJ] Dillon, and my position’s players, of course – outside linebackers – Preston Smith, Rashan Gary, JJ, LaDarius [Hamilton]. They have been very nice to me.”

But let’s rewind.

Odumegwu, the defensive MVP at the inaugural NFL Africa camp in Ghana last year, started out playing soccer as a defensive midfielder. Ivan Rakitić was his idol, but when it became clear that his size was better suited to basketball, he switched to hoops and began following Giannis Antetokounmpo.

A year ago, the coaches at Educational Basketball, Iseolupo and Olutobi Adepitan, spotted him and converted him to American football, which they had just ventured into to scout for Umenyiora’s Uprise program.

But Kenneth had very little trust for the Adepitan brothers at first, having been burned by flakey scouts in the past: “To be honest, in Nigeria, in my soccer playing days, we had some people who called themselves scouts and they’d be like: ‘Ok, we liked you. You can play. How would you like to go to Europe?’ It’s all talk. Nothing really happens after that. .

“In Nigeria, we all know that’s how it works. When some people came with the idea: ‘How would you like to play American football?’ I was like: ‘What?’ They called me, they spoke to me, and then I spoke to my dad about them and he told me I should go try. There’s no harm in trying.

“It was David Agoha, who is with the Las Vegas Raiders now, who also asked me to come play football. I was like: ‘what?’ I never knew anything about American football in Nigeria. I knew about the flag football, but I wasn’t interested.”

However, once Odumegwu set foot inside Umenyiora’s Uprise camp and met the two-time New York Giants Super Bowl winner face-to-face, his mind was made up.

“The first camp in May [2022] in Abuja, I went there. It was a big camp. Osi walked up to me and said: ‘Number 12,’ because I had number 12 on my jersey at that time, ‘Your coach told me a lot about you. I’d like to see what you can do.’

“At that moment, I realised: ‘Osi wants to see what I can do,’ so I gave it my all. At the end of the camp, he told me that he was very impressed with me… That was when I took the training extra serious.”

Odumegwu moved on to the NFL Africa Touchdown camp in Ghana a month later, where he claimed his defensive MVP notch, then to London for the NFL International Combine in October. From there, he was selected for the IPP Program and then allocated to the Packers.

READ: Nigeria’s Emmanuel Okoye commits to Tennessee from NFL Africa Academy

Odumegwu has been made to feel at home in Wisconsin, but upon being allocated to the Packers, he did not initially realise that he was now in the same state as his idol, Antetokounmpo. Once he worked it out, he resolved to himself that he would watch a Milwaukee Bucks game.

He said: “Coming here, to be honest, I didn’t know Milwaukee was in Wisconsin. When I was told I was coming to Green Bay, I looked it up. It was in the same state Milwaukee was in. If I get a chance, I’d love to go see the Bucks games.”

Although he has evolved from following FC Barcelona to the Bucks to being in Green Bay, Odumegwu has taken lessons from his idols in his past sports forward to his new one. “There’s one lesson for every sport: consistency and hard work,” he said.

However, apart from seeing his basketball hero play, he is trying not to focus too much on drawing up a bucket list for his first year, opting rather to trust the process: “For that one (breaking into the NFL), my work will speak for me.

“It’s fine to set goals, but for me, goals put you in positions where you try to think too much about it. I go with the work; I do what’s needed.

“You could choose to do something else, to be honest, but you’re here for a reason, so why not finish what you started? That’s how it is for me.”

Source link

From Lagos to Lambeau – Packers’ Kenneth Odumegwu on (Jordan) Love and basketball