NFL International Player Pathway spotlight: Thomas Odukoya, TE, The Netherlands

One of the top European talents in division one college football is set to join this year’s class of invites for the NFL’s international player pathway program. After a solid career at Eastern Michigan University big-bodied Almere, Netherlands native Thomas Odukoya is eager to make the jump to the NFL. Odukoya is proud to represent his home country at the highest level:

“It’s an awesome feeling! Being selected by the NFL’s IPP program is a step closer to realizing my dream. I’ve worked really hard to get to this point and I will continue to grind. The Netherlands might not be known as much of a football country but I plan to put the Netherlands on the map. There is a lot of talent in the Netherlands and I hope colleges and the NFL will see this more and recruit the Netherlands.”

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.

One of the NFL’s eight divisions, to be chosen at random, will receive the international players selected for the 2022 program should they not be signed to free agent contracts. At the conclusion of training camp, each player will be eligible for an international player practice squad exemption with his assigned team. This grants the assigned team an extra practice squad member. Under certain parameters, players can also be elevated to the active roster during the regular season.

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

The 6’6,” 265-pound prospect was of the most prolific blocking tight ends in the nation. Odukoya was one of the leaders, on and off the field, for Eastern Michigan. A 2021 team captain and former bearer of the No. 2, “Deuce” jersey, Odukoya was a multiple-time watch list honoree for the Campbell Trophy, Wuerffel Trophy, and Mackey Award.  Odukoya hauled in 13 receptions for 130 yards and one touchdown this season, earning a spot on the All-MAC third team. The Eagles captain finished his career at Eastern Michigan with 40 games played, 21 catches, 194 receiving yards, and four touchdowns.

Odukoya earned a scholarship to the Eagles after playing community college football at West Hills Coalinga and Garden City. The massive prospect first started playing football in the Netherlands suiting up for the Flevo Phantoms. Dominating on the defensive side of the ball, Odukoya racked up 22 sacks in one season and was named to the Dutch National team.

In addition, to being selected as one of the 13 invites to the international player pathway program, Odukoya has also earned a spot in this year’s Hula Bowl all-star game.

The Dutchmen hopes to become the next talent from the Netherlands to break into the NFL, joining names like Harald Hasselbach, Romeo Bandison, Geraldo Boldewijn. If the physical tight end can earn a place on an NFL roster he’ll be the first Dutch player to do so since 2014.

Alex is a former NCAA and semi-pro American football player who is now located in London, where he works in digital marketing. His goal in writing for AFI is to stay involved with the game that has given him so much. Alex enjoys covering leagues and