If you ask any Nigerian about football, their mind instantly conjures up images of Jay-Jay Okocha dazzling Super Eagles fans with his silky skills and iconic dancing goal celebrations. However, for some Nigerians, the word football refers to American Football, an entirely different sport and one not usually associated with this incredible country.
Since 1984, some 34 Nigerian nationals have graced the field for various National Football League (NFL) teams; the NFL is the premier American Football competition. At the time of writing, there are ten Nigerians on the active rosters of some NFL franchises, with five of those players regularly turning out for their team and helping to push them towards Super Bowl glory in 2023.
Nelson Agholor is a legend among Nigerian American Football fans because he was the first-ever Super Bowl champion of Nigerian descent. Agholor was born in Lagos in May 1993, but he and his family moved to the United States when he was five. He played as a running back, wide receiver, and defensive back for his high school. His natural talent and versatility put him on the radar of the best colleges in the United States and made him a firm favorite with people who bet online Super Bowl to become the first Nigerian Super Bowl winner.
In 2012, Agholor committed to the University of Southern California (USC) over Notre Dame, Florida State, and Alabama. He racked up 2,571 receiving yards and scored 20 touchdowns between 2012 and 2015, prompting the Philadelphia Eagles to select Agholor as the 20th overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Agholor slotted straight into the Philadelphia Eagles’ starting line-up, and although his figures did not match his incredible college numbers, he became a vital member of the Eagles team. Two years after making his NFL debut, Agholor was part of the team that won Super Bowl LII, the first such victory in the Philadelphia Eagles’ history.
Since then, Agholor has played for the Las Vegas Raiders, the New England Patriots, and currently turns out for the Baltimore Ravens.
David Onyemata was born in Lagos in November 1992 and immigrated to Winnipeg, United States, in 2011, where he attended the University of Manitoba. Amazingly, Onyemata had never seen an American Football game before attending college, yet he became a top player for the Manitoba Bisons college team.
Standing 6ft 4in tall and weighing 300 pounds, Onyemata was a force to be reckoned with. The New Orleans Saints drafted Onyemata 120th overall in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Despite being selected low in the draft, Onyemata became an instant hit for the New Orleans Saints and was one of the first names on the team sheet between 2016 and 2022. He made over 220 tackles in the colors of the Saints before heading to the Atlanta Falcons in March 2023, where he signed a three-year $35 million contract.
Emmanuel Ogbah is another NFL player who started life in Lagos and immigrated to the United States as a child. Ogbah and his family moved from Lagos to Houston, Texas, in 2002 when Ogbah was nine.
After playing as a defensive end for Oklahoma State in college, the Cleveland Browns selected Ogbah as the 32nd overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft and offered him a four-year contract worth $6.6 million. Ogbah played 26 games for the Browns before moving to the Kansas City Chiefs in time for the 2019 NFL season. In Week 10, Ogbah suffered a torn pectoral, which ruled him out for the rest of the season. The Kansas City Chiefs went on to win the Super Bowl that year, and Ogbah received a Championship ring, having helped his team before his injury.
In March 2020, the Miami Dolphins signed Ogbah on a two-year $15 million deal. Once that contract ended, the Dolphins offered the Nigerian a fresh deal worth a staggering $65 million over four years.
Nnamka Samson Ebukam and his family moved from Lagos to Portland, Oregon, in 2004 when Ebukam was nine. His impressive athletic ability saw him shine for the David Douglas High School and then Eastern Washington University. During his college career, Ebukam made 188 tackles in 38 starts, including sacking the opposition quarterback 24 times.
The Los Angeles Rams drafted Ebukam 125th overall in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft, with Ekubam putting pen to paper on a four-year $3.01 million deal. Ekubam stayed with the Rams for four seasons before he headed to the San Francisco 49ers, earning an $11.94 million two-year deal. He was traded to the Indianapolis Colts in 2023, signing a three-year $24 million contract.
Prince Tega Wanogho was born in Delta State in November 1997. He and his family moved to Alabama in 2014 because Wanogho was a highly-skilled basketball player who dreamed of playing in the National Basketball Association (NBA). While at high school, coaches converted Wanogho to a defensive lineman in American Football. He only played one high school season but was still considered a four-star recruit.
Wanogho opted to attend Auburn University, turning down offers from at least five other universities. He redshirted his first year due to suffering a leg injury but then converted to an offensive lineman upon his return before settling on the offensive tackle position.
The Philadelphia Eagles selected Waogho as the 210th overall pick in the sixth round of the 2020 NFL Draft, which did not bode well for his career. He only played once for the Eagles before joining the Kansas City Chiefs in 2021. Wanogho made two appearances during his first season with the Chiefs but played 17 games in 2022, including winning the Super Bowl when the Chiefs beat his old team, the Eagles.
Although American Football is not the sport of choice for young Nigerians, the five players detailed above prove that you can step outside of your comfort zone, apply yourself to a game that may be relatively alien, and forge a career as a top athlete. All five players mentioned here earn unfathomable riches as American Footballers, and all serve as inspirational figures to young Nigerians.