British DE Adedayo Odeleye believes he’s the right player to make the NFL leap

Adedayo Odeleye is used to standing out in a crowd.

At an imposing six-foot-five, 265-pounds, the British defensive end dwarfs the average citizen and it’s been that way since he was a child.

“I’m the youngest of seven kids but I’m also the biggest and the tallest. It’s been that way since I was about 14, so I’ve always been the big kid on the playground so to speak,” Odeleye says. “So much so that when I started playing rugby in my Year Six days, I was actually playing for the year above because I was big enough to compete at that level.”

When American football teams first began looking overseas for talent, it was under the belief that only a finite number of humans on earth possess the requisite size and athleticism to play professional football. Odeleye is exactly the player they were thinking of and his impressive skillset has him on his way to Florida as one of just 11 players globally selected to participate in this year’s NFL International Player Pathway Program.

Born in Nigeria, Odeleye moved with his family to England at the age of nine and quickly discovered a passion for sport. Massive compared to his classmates, Odeleye knew he had a future in sport, he just didn’t quite know which one. That dream was part of his decision to attend Loughborough University, known as one of Britain’s top sporting universities.

At the school’s sports fair, Odeleye sampled his options and tried out for soccer, athletics and basketball but quickly became captivated by the school’s most unusual offering: American football. Odeleye had begun casually watching the sport at 18, falling for the exciting playstyle of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, but he had never played it. He decided to take a leap of faith and sign up, discovering a game that felt distinctly foreign.

“I remember my first practice in full pads and it was kind of a deer in headlights situation,” Odeleye recalls. “I step on the field as a defensive lineman and I have to go up against a 300-odd pound man, and I can remember the helmet being unusual because it was my first time wearing one and that’s how you realize your field of view is more limited than you think.”

The equipment took some getting used to, the style of play did not. A gym rat since the age of 16, Odeleye was already a physical specimen capable of man-handling opponents.

“The physical aspect of the game wasn’t too daunting to me,” he says matter-of-factly.

Odeleye was already a force to be reckoned with his rookie season and was receiving some of the best training in Britain. Loughborough head coach Martin Hilton also served as defensive coordinator for Great Britain’s national team and he pulled the promising player aside before the start of his second season to give him some added responsibilities.

“At that point, I was playing for fun so I was kind of just cruising along, but because of my physical attributes I was able to dominate the opponents, not through good technique but mainly because I was bigger than most of the people we played against,” Odeleye admits. “At the start of second year, I spoke to my coach and he decided to make me one of the captains. That’s when I realized this sport could actually go somewhere.”

The young Odeleye’s enthusiasm and leadership stood out as much as his physical play and he quickly became one of the nation’s best defensive linemen. Driven by a desire to be the best, Odeleye soaked up coaching and sought out drills on his own to improve his technique.

“It’s involved a lot of YouTube. Watching technique, self-practicing on the field, just me, myself and a few cones running through drills to emulate what I see professional athletes doing,” he explains. “The information is out there, you just have to be willing to look for it and work with it.”

Odeleye credits that dedication and discipline to his upbringing, a mentality instilled in him by his parents, a successful doctor and nurse trying to raise seven kids in a new country. Others took notice of its results on the field and he’s been on the NFL’s radar for almost two years as a potential international prospect. Now, he has a chance to vie for one of four international practice roster spots and hopefully follow fellow Nigerian-born Brit Efe Obada’s path to NFL success.

“To be given such a big opportunity, two people in all of England and 11 people in the whole world, it’s a rare chance that comes along,” Odeleye says. “My short-term goal would be to see as much improvement in my technique and physical abilities by the end of the program as possible and to show the scouts and coaches that I am willing to learn, willing to make improvements and I have the capabilities to do it.”

Still one of just a handful of British players breaking barriers in football, Odeleye hopes he can prove that given the opportunity British talent can compete with the best in the world.

“The talent is there. Once you get the right player, the right person, with the right trainer and the right coach, they can all see what we’re capable of,” he insists.

Born to play football, Odeleye believes he’s the right player and with the right opportunity in front of him ,he’s ready to prove it.

J.C. Abbott is a student at the University of British Columbia and amateur football coach in Vancouver, Canada. A CFL writer for 3DownNation, his love of travel has been the root of his fascination with the global game.