Okoye seals 49ers move
Olympic finalist Lawrence Okoye admits he faces a baptism of fire after signing for the San Francisco 49ers despite having never played a single game of American football.
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The 21-year-old, who was 12th in the discus at London 2012, was not selected on the final day of the NFL draft but signed with the 49ers, who lost to the Baltimore Ravens in the Super Bowl in February, as an undrafted free agent.
Okoye has only once put on a helmet and full pads but has made an unspecified "long-term commitment" to the 49ers, whose coach Jim Harbaugh told the San Francisco Gate: "He's just an Adonis. Just a great physical specimen of a man. I can think of some other adjectives. Our creator created a beautiful man."
"It's amazing for me, I'm absolutely delighted how things have worked out," Okoye said via a teleconference from Georgia. "The 49ers are the best fit in the league for what I am trying to do. This could be a great success story.
"I watched the Super Bowl and it was amazing to see them come back from such a terrible start and be one play away from winning. I want to be part of the organisation's future success and I think they are building a team that can rival any in the NFC and NFL."
Okoye spent eight hours watching every pick of the draft on television and was in contact with the 49ers and other teams as it progressed, with the persistence of the 49ers and their defensive line coach Jim Tomsula proving decisive.
"It's the team I felt wanted to do the most work with me," added Okoye, who is expected to play as a defensive lineman.
"Jim Tomsula has a great background in NFL Europe developing players without much background in the game.
"It's going to be a baptism of fire but that's part of the process. I don't set limits on myself. If I said when I was 18 that I was going to be in an Olympic final in two years I don't think anyone would have said I was serious.
"I realise it's going to be a ridiculously tough, tough process. It's going to be a fight every day and I am aware of the big possibility of being on the practice squad for however long they see fit. If I make it early or late it doesn't matter as long as I make it.
"I will have to work even harder than everyone else, I have a lot to catch up on. I know as much as I can without having played it but I am still an outsider looking in.
"They have made it clear they are going to teach me everything from scratch. It's similar to my discus journey under John Hillier, learning how to hold it, how to release it from the fingers."
Okoye, who turned down offers to play rugby union and was also accepted to study law at Oxford University, initially said after the Olympics that he intended to carry on with the discus and aim for Rio 2016.
But he subsequently decided to switch to American football and wowed scouts at the Super Regional Combine.
"I am not in a position to be looking too far into the future," he added.
"But Oxford is never going to leave my mind and I do plan on going there."
Okoye joins Manchester-born Menelik Watson on the west coast of America after Watson was selected by the Oakland Raiders in the second round of the draft, while Crawley-born linebacker Tom Wort joined the Tennessee Titans as an undrafted free agent.