NFL: Credit Olatoke for trading athletics for a kick in American football

NFL: Credit Olatoke for trading athletics for a kick in American football

  • By Sean McGill
  • BBC Scotland

Image caption,

Praise Olatoke hopes to fly the flag for Scotland in the NFL

Born in Nigeria. Raised in Glasgow. On your way to the NFL?

Praise Olatoke has walked the unconventional path in life before, so when the opportunity arose to trade the running track for the American football field, the decision came faster than the 100m sprint.

The 23-year-old finds himself in the final weeks of the NFL’s International Player Journey, in which 16 athletes from around the world who may never have known the brown skin of a football before are given the opportunity to set foot on the sport’s biggest scene.

Some would be disheartened to abandon a successful track and field career to pursue the notoriously brutal and grueling new discipline, going from short-distance sprinter to wide receiver.

But when asked if he could imagine a scenario where he catches the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl, it’s clear that Olatoke has taken that streak of Scotch gallus to the States.

“1,000 per cent,” he told BBC Scotland. “Crazier things have happened, so I wouldn’t say it’s unusual. I think it has to happen – and it will. It’s just a matter of time.”

Bold. But this dream was not one that had recently sprung into the young man’s mind. While he was representing Scotland in athletics, burning up the blocks and climbing the world rankings, his finish line looked different.

“The doors are open, I have to take it”

American football has grown exponentially in the UK over the last decade. Still, there probably aren’t many kids kicking around school fields in Glasgow telling their friends they’ll one day play in the NFL.

Olatoke, on the other hand, told anyone who would listen.

“You could ask my friends in high school – I’d tell them I was going to play American football,” he says.

“I don’t know how, I don’t know where. Ever since I was 15 it’s always been something I’ve wanted to do. Now that the doors are open, I have to take it.

“It’s been tough, to be honest, but I can definitely see improvement. From day one I could barely understand which players were going where. Now I can visualize game concepts, so I see a huge improvement.”

On Wednesday, Olatoke will put that improvement to the test when IPP’s Class of 2024 – which includes Welsh rugby union superstar Lewis Rees-Zammit – showcases their new skills to scouts from across the United States.

Image caption,

Olatoke’s roommate Louis Rees-Zammit turned down a place in Wales’ Six Nations squad to take part in the International Player Pathway

Impress them and a spot with one of the league’s 32 franchises could be his. Not only will it be a proud moment for the former Ohio State running back as an individual, but also as one of the few Scots to compete in the NFL.

“I was born in Nigeria but I moved to Scotland when I was five,” Olatoke says. “My family is still based there and I lived there until I was 18. I did all my schooling in Glasgow.

“I grew up representing Scotland in athletics, so it would be bad to represent Scotland in American football. That’s definitely my goal, to be one of the few people that means Scotland can say ‘we’ve got an NFL player’.

“Scotland has the athletes. I don’t see why American football can’t come to Scotland and why Scots can’t thrive and play American football at a high level.”

image source, Getty Images

Despite the short list of names that will go from Scotland to America’s most popular sport, the salt has flown at the Super Bowl.

Greenock native Lawrence Tynes kicked a field goal in both of the New York Giants’ Vince Lombardi Trophy wins in 2008 and 2012.

If Olatoke can achieve his immediate goal of winning a jersey, it won’t be long before he tries to be the next Scotsman to put one of those famous Super Bowl rings on his finger.

“It’s every player’s dream,” he says. “You don’t work that hard for that long and put yourself through all that to not at least try to win a Super Bowl.

“It’s definitely something I want to see for myself in the future.”

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