London-born teenager joining Oklahoma shows NFL Academy is on the rise

There are not many players who get as many as 30 scholarship offers from top colleges to go and play American football for them.

The fact that one such player is London-born teenager Daniel Akinkunmi proves that the NFL Academy is going from strength to strength.

Based in Loughborough, the NFL Academy is an elite player pathway programme which opened in September 2019 as is slowly becoming the place to go for young players hoping to kick-start their NFL dreams.

The NFL Academy is a major initiative by the NFL which aims to use football to create life-changing opportunities for young people all around the world, and in Akinkunmi they have the living proof that it is working.

The versatile young offensive lineman, who can play in all five slots along the front, was one of the most sough-after youngsters for top US colleges, before he settled on joining powerhouse Oklahoma.

 

The Sooners are seven-time National Championship winners and are fifth in the current rankings, so to get an offer from them, as well as other huge college programmes like Clemson, Miami and Baylor shows what a hot prospect t he 18-year-old is.

A visit to Oklahoma to see the facility and watch a game, along with meetings with head coach Brent Venable and offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh made Akinkunmi’s mind up for him.

“It just felt like it was home, and it was not forced,” said Akinkunmi. “I feel like I’ve been to places and it’s just forced upon you, but it just felt so natural.

“The fan base absolutely is amazing. I was just walking around the streets of Oklahoma and I was getting recognized and saying, ‘Oh my God, are you the kid from the UK?’ And it was amazing, to have that, to having kids coming up to me asking for photos.”

Over 40 NFL Academy graduates have been given scholarships in the USA and when they played at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium against American opposition recently while the NFL London games were on – college recruiters were watching as the game was streamed live.

With annual trips to the United States to showcase their talent, high-class training at Loughborough and being mentored by the likes of two-time Super Bowl champion Osi Umenyiora – the NFL Academy players have a huge amount going for them.

There are already plenty of stories of talented athletes from the UK, Europe and Africa being drawn to the sport, and quickly making the move to college and onwards to the NFL.

Former NFL receiver Nate Burleson says the NFL Academy is a “game changer” in opening doors for players from this side of the Atlantic to try and get into the NFL.

“This is going to be a game changer for all these young men, looking across the pond at the NFL and thinking one day ‘that’ll be me’ and the NFL Academy can make their dreams come true,” said Burleson.

And with so many big colleges now sitting up and taking notice of NFL Academy, there’ll be plenty more dreams coming true in the future.

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