In the NFL, Okoye was nicknamed “The Nigerian Nightmare” because of his dominant running style, his elusive speed and his ability to break tackles and run over defenders. In 1989, Okoye had his best NFL season leading the league in rushing yards, rushing attempts and was recognized by the United Press International (UPI) as the American Football Conference’s (AFC) Offensive Player of the Year. In addition, he was also awarded the Most Valuable Player (MVP) by the Kansas City Chiefs and earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl as a result of his stellar performance that same year. After six years of playing professional American football, Okoye eventually grew tired of the game. He retired as the all-time leading rusher for the Kansas City Chiefs and he was inducted in the Chiefs Hall of Fame in 2000.
Here are a few Nigerian players that have impacted the NFL:
Amobi Okoye was born in Anambra State and is the youngest player to ever be selected in the first round of the NFL Draft at only 19 years old. He graduated with a Psychology degree from the University of Louisville and got drafted in 2007 to play as the defensive tackle for the Houston Texans. After four years with the Houston Texans, he went on and had multiple stints with the Chicago Bears (2011, 2012), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2012, off season member only) and the Dallas Cowboys (2014). Okoye is currently a free agent.
was born in Lafayette, Louisiana and is a former American football player who was once widely considered to be one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. He graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Interdisciplinary Studies and was selected by the Oakland Raiders as the 31st pick in the first round of the 2003 NFL draft. After playing for eight years with the Raiders, Asomugha will go on to play another two years with the Philadelphia Eagles and another year with the San Francisco 49ers.
On December 27, 2013, Asomugha officially announced his retirement after signing a one-day contract with the Oakland Raiders. In all, Asomugha is one of the most successful Nigerians to have ever played in the NFL. His career highlights include: 3-time Pro Bowler (2008, 2009, 2010), 4-time All-Pro (2006, 2008, 2009, 2010), NFL All-Decade Team 2000s (Fox Sports, USA Today), 2-time Oakland Raiders MVP (2006, 2008) and Ranked #18 in the Top 100 NFL Players of 2011.
Ositadimma “Osi” Umenyiora is a former NFL defensive end who played college football at Troy University and was selected as the 56th overall pick (2nd Round) in the 2003 NFL Draft by the New York Giants. Umenyiora played for the New York Giants and the Atlanta Falcons over the course of his remarkable career in the NFL. During his ten year spell with the New York Giants, Umenyiora wreaked havoc on opposing NFL team offenses and was considered one of the best pass rushers in the 2000’s. His career highlights include 2-time Super Bowl Champion (XLII, XLVI), 2-time Pro Bowler (2005, 2007), 2-time All Pro (2005, 2007), New York Giants single game sack record (6) and NFL season forced fumbles record (10). Umenyiora will retire from football as a New York Giant on August 26, 2015 after playing with the Atlanta Falcons for two years. A few months later on October 11, 2015, he was inducted into the Giants Ring of Honor for his on and off the field contributions to the organization. Today, Umenyiora serves as the NFL Ambassador to London.
Nelson Agholor was born in Lagos and was drafted as the 20th overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles. Coming out of high school ranked as the 3rd best wide receiver in the nation, Agholor decided to play college football at the University of Southern California (USC). He was the leading receiver at USC during his junior year in 2014 leading the team in receptions (104), yards (1,313) and touchdowns (12). After an exceptional junior year at USC, Agholor decided to forgo his senior season and enter the 2015 NFL draft. Agholor will continue the tradition of Nigerians that have excelled in the NFL and the 4 year $9.4 million contract he signed on May 7th, 2015 is an indication of the great potential and the future returns the Philadelphia Eagles football organization see in him.
Despite all their fame and fortune, Nigerian players in the NFL have not forgotten their birthplace or ancestral background. Players such as Nnamdi Asomugha, James Ihedigbo, Israel Idonije, Frank Okam, and brothers Sam and Emmanuel Acho have all been engaged in community service and humanitarian work that has touched thousands of lives, both in the US and in Nigeria.
Take for example the Achos brothers who (along with their parents) created the Living Hope Ministries, a Christian, non-profit organization that provides quality healthcare for Africans. The brothers have embraced the mission of helping others in need and work tirelessly raising funds to build a hospital that will provide care to more than 3,000 rural community residents. The brothers also donate the proceeds from their summer camps to building the hospital and on a few occasions have joined their Dad during his annual medical missionary trips to Nigeria.
As the predominant sports nation in Africa, Nigeria continues to set new standards within the American professional football arena. The fact that there are currently at least 40 or more African players in the NFL out of which 70% percent of those players are Nigerian is a testament to the country’s ubiquitous NFL presence. Moreover, the success of ex- NFL players such as Christian Okoye, Osi Umenyiora and Nnamdi Asomugha has established a standard of excellence for a younger generation of Nigerians