From last place to first down – or that's what Lawrence Okoye is hoping. The British discus thrower, who came a lowly 12th in the Olympic final last year, has decided to throw in his lot with American football and may well feature in next week's NFL draft.
Okoye had played rugby union at Whitgift School in south London and graduated to the academies at London Irish and Wasps before he chose to take up the discus in 2010. He went on to record the fifth longest throw in the world, 68.24m, two months before the London Games but managed only 61.03m when it really mattered.
Now the American dream has taken hold of the 21-year-old. He was in warm-weather athletics training in Atlanta in February when he decided to apply for the Regional Combine, at which players can put themselves forward for NFL team scouts to cast an eye over them. From there the 6ft 6in, 21st 10lb Okoye reached the Super Regionals in Dallas and Gil Brandt, the Cowboys' chief talent scout for three decades, rated him highly in the defence department: "Of all the guys there, he seemed to be the class of the defensive linesman."
Now Okoye must wait to hear if he is wanted by the big boys. Last year more than 2,000 raw recruits were considered but only 87 signed contracts and 28 were on the opening-day roster. The problem is, while he excelled at the drills, Okoye has never actually played the game, though his Nigerian-born father Lawrence Snr was a defensive end at the University of Nebraska. But he believes he can master the sport as rapidly as he rose to prominence in track and field.
"It's all about repetition, like the discus, there are certain skills you've got to do every day," he says. "I'm a good guy when it comes to learning skills; I'm intelligent, I'm bright, I'm good at picking things up quickly.
He admits: "I was very disappointed after the Olympics. Coming 12th was obviously great, given where I'd come from, but at the end of the day it wasn't good enough. If I had carried on doing discus I would have reached such a level where it would be tough to go backwards. Being 21 works in my favour because a team will have a long time to work on me and make me a good player."
He is so confident of his abilities that he has bid farewell to UK Athletics, and head coach Peter Eriksson did not try to dissuade him. "Eriksson just said good luck and left me to it, and that's the way it's got to be. He didn't try to talk me out of it. If I don't want to do athletics it's not his job to look after me. I have no problems with them but I've got to look after my own future."Reuse content