Global talents shine brightly at London’s NFL International Combine

Early this week, 44 athletes from over 14 different countries put their best foot forward in hopes of earning a shot at their National Football League dreams. Under the open roof of Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, in London England, these young NFL dream chasers performed a myriad of tests and drills in front of NFL scouts, media, and coaches hoping to earn a chance in the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program.

Instituted in 2017, the NFL International Player Pathway program aims to give elite international athletes the opportunity to compete at the NFL level, improve their skills, and ultimately earn a spot on an NFL roster.

So far, the program has helped players such as Jordan Mailata (Philadelphia Eagles/Australia), Efe Obada (Washington Football Team/UK), and Jakob Johnson (New England Patriots/Germany) earn roster spots in the NFL.

Under the watchful eye of the NFL’s royalty such as Osi Umenyiora, Maurice Jones-Drew, Lecharles Bentley, Scott Piolli and Rachel Bonnetta these global athletes put it all on the line for a shot at NFL.

A present host, the United Kingdom itself trotted out five athletes of its own featuring former Rugby sensation turned speedy running back Tyrese Johnson-Fisher, UK football veteran Andy Owusu, and promising defenders Arthur Mbahin, Emmanuel Falola, and Jai Albert Jackson.

Running back Tyrese Johnson-Fisher catching the ball Photo: NFL UK

Nigeria sent the most athletes to the combine as former New York Giant Osi Umenyiora’s Uprise Academy along with the Educational Basketball Program have been scouring West Africa for its best and brightest athletes. Three Nigerian lineman’s size and athleticism stood out in Basil Chijoke Okoye, ‘Chu” Jason Godrick, and Chibuike Chisom Omemgboji.

On the other side of the ball, defensive backs Ebuka Emmanuel Nzweke and Ifeanyi Paul Anine tested very well, as did defenders Kenneth Odumegwu and Ifeanyi Augustine Nwoye.

Spain had two invites as Barcelona Dragons teammates Gabriel Rodriguez and European League of Football ‘Defensive Rookie of the Year’ winner Alejandro Fernandez represented their countries growing football scene well.

On the French side, another ELF All-Star in defensive back Kevin Fortes, along with linebacker Abel Saint Amand Daufour showed scouts a glimpse at France’s rich football talent.

Players huddle before the next evaluation, during the International Player Combine Photo: NFL UK

However, Japan’s lone invite Ricki Matsui may have stole the show of the combine. Scouts raved at his football knowledge, crisp route running, and excellent hands. More importantly, the Fujitsu Frontiers receiver showed he absolutely could fly, posting a blazing 4.41 unofficial 40-yard dash, the best at the event by a large margin. Explosion complemented his speed as he jumped a 36 inch vertical the day prior.

Germany, known for a strong and growing American football scene, sent six athletes to the London Combine, including two call backs from last year’s events in linebacker Flamur Simon and fullback and tight end John-Levi Kruse. New faces from Germany included linemen Marlon Werthmann, Luca Jokiel, linebacker Lino Schroeter, and former University of Central Florida (NCAA D1) tackle Leander Wiegand.

Other European invites included Dutch defensive lineman Tyrese OwusuBediako and defensive back Harlan Kwofie. Also representing Europe were Swiss defensive lineman Tim Haenni, Belgian and Nigerian lineman Amos Laoye, Austrian lineman Tobias Rodlauer and Raiders Tirol linebacker Lucky Ogbevoen.

Defensive lineman Tim Haenni, of Switzerland, during the International Player Combine Photo NFL UK

Mexico’s Hector Zepeda’s technique stood out in drills, as he brings excellent football experience from his country’s developed college football system. The 6’4″ lineman spent last season training with the NFL IPP program but was not allocated to a team. Now, he hopes to make the most of his second chance.

Joining Zepada was Panamanian defensive end Jaime Bowles. The long armed defender with Mexican college football experienced moved well in drills drawing praise from watchful coaches.

From across the globe, three Australians made the long journey to England. Former Aussie Rules football player Patrick Murtagh showed off his size and athleticism as a tight end, while pass rusher Talitiga Lachlan Amosa looked smooth in defensive line drills. The third Aussie, Brendan Oswin also looked sharp, as the offensive lineman is still in-season preparing to play for the Potsdam Royals in this week’s German Bowl championship game.

Last but not least, four Kiwis from New Zealand showed their skills off as linemen Etuale Junior Vinny Lui, Jaylen Raymond Chan Tung, Te Akau Gary Pumipi, and tight end Jack Siaki Akiono showed how many former Rugby players such as Philadelphia Eagles tackle Jordan Mailata have great potential on the gridiron.

Patrick Murtagh and Tyrese Johnson Fisher hug Photo: NFL UK

Expect the NFL to choose 12-15 of these international prospects to train in the United States this spring. From there, four lucky athletes will be allocated to NFL teams. Fans can look for an announcement from the NFL in December as to which players have made the first cut.

Alex is a former professional American football player who is now studying in London. His goal writing for AFI is to stay involved with the game that has given him so much. Alex enjoys covering leagues and players and sharing different football