London excellent host for 5th NFL International Combine

On Saturday October 10, Tottenham Hotspurs Stadium in London was the site of an NFL football game between the Atlanta Falcons and New York Jets. Two days later, 44 international athletes entered the NFL-prepped London stadium looking to impress scouts at the 5th NFL International Combine.

These players, among others, were competing for a chance to be selected as part of the NFL International Player Pathway program. Instituted in 2017, the program aims to provide elite international athletes the opportunity to compete at the highest level, improve their skills, and ultimately earn a spot on an NFL roster. 

The International Combine is the first step towards participation in the program. Of the two combines held – London and Mexico City (October 23) this year – 12 athletes will be selected to train in Florida for three months before that number is finally whittled down to four who will then each be assigned to a team in a division (there are four teams per division in the National Football League). Athletes will be following in the footsteps of current NFL players such as Efe Obada (Buffalo Bills/UK), Jordan Mailata (Philadelphia Eagles/Australia), Sammis Reyes (Washington Football Team/Chile), and Jakob Johnson (New England Patriots/Germany) earn roster spots in the NFL.

Photo: Roger Goodgroves, Double Coverage

Of the 44 at the London combine, 14 athletes were from the United Kingdom, which had the largest contingent followed closely by 10 Germans. Other nations also represented include Belgium, France, Nigeria, Netherlands, New Zealand, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Sweden, Finland, Hungary, Slovakia, and Japan.

Although most athletes there had played at the highest level of European football at one time or another, be that GFL, ELF or IFL, there were a few who stood out. Haggai Chisom Ndubuisi, of Osi Umenyiora’s Up Rise Academy in Nigeria, the 6’10″ and 270 pound Nigerian ex-basketball player, impressed scouts with his quick feet, strong hands and movement skills; Robin Wilzneck, who played in and won the German Bowl just three days prior with the Dresden Monarchs, ran the second fastest 40 (4.59) and showed off lighting fast quickness in and out of his breaks and a soft pair of hands; but without a shadow of a doubt the star performer was the defensive back out of Germany, Marcel Dabo. The 21-year-old was backflipping for cameras in between running 4.5 40’s, but it wasn’t just his measurables that impressed on-lookers – his hips were smooth and his change of direction sharp.

For the UK’s Chad Walrond though, getting a chance to perform in front of a host of NFL scouts, media and personalities in his home country was a calming experience:

“Being in my home country was great because it helped me feel a lot less anxious and I was used to the surroundings to a degree. It was also great because it helped show that the UK does have a lot of talent available, but we just never had the platform to do so.”

Germany’s Rapheal Zistler was playing in the German Bowl three days before heading to the combine. The Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns defensive tackle had butterflies when entering the stadium that was filled with thousands of NFL fans just 48 hours previously.

 “It felt unreal at the beginning. It puts some pressure on you knowing somebody sees every little mistake you make. But they also see the good things you do and they let you know when you did something good. And after some time you almost get used to it, almost.”

Photo: Roger Goodgroves, Double Coverage

Brett Gosper, head of Europe and the UK for the NFL commented on the importance of the NFL international combine and the leagues continued efforts to expand its fan base internationally.

“Any player who becomes an NFL star is great for our game internationally. If some of these stars make it and they originate from the UK or Germany or any of the other markets, it spikes huge interest in those markets and grows that fanbase. It’s all part of expanding our footprint globally.”

With more and more international talent entering the NFL, these hometown heroes have the potential to attract even more global viewers to NFL Sunday afternoons.

The NFL has already established in London as its second home internationally. With Mexico City the third and plans to host games in Germany, there could be more NFL homecomings for international athletes as a rapidly growing base of international fans tune in to watch the games week in and week out.

Daniel Mackenzie is a Press Association graduate who works in journalism and communications in the third sector. Daniel began playing football for the London Warriors and Team Great Britain and has since played across Europe.