African Influence on the NFL: A Look at Top African Players

by | Feb 12, 2023 | Admissions, Inspiring, Student Life

While the world is well aware of the talent and success of African players on the soccer field, African athletes in the NFL often go unrecognized. However, their impact on American football is not to be underestimated. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at some of the top African players in the NFL. Lets start by paying homage to the trailblazer who paved the way for them all.

Howard Simon Mwikuta (Zambia) –  As the first African to reach the NFL, Howard Simon Mwikuta holds a special place in the history of African NFL players. Born in Zambia, Mwikuta was a placekicker for the Dallas Cowboys in the 1970 preseason and became the first African player to wear an NFL jersey. Although his time with the Cowboys was brief, he continues to inspire aspiring African NFL players to this day.

Chukwuma Okorafor (Nigeria) –  Chukwuma Okorafor, an offensive tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers, was the 92nd overall draft pick in the 2018 NFL draft. Hailing from Nigeria, he first caught the attention of scouts at Western Michigan college and went on to sign a $3.4 million contract with the Steelers, which included an $800K signing bonus. In his three seasons in the NFL, Okorafor has played in 30 games and started in 19 of them, making Nigeria proud of his achievements.

Ndamukong Suh (Cameroon) – Ndamukong Suh has Cameroonian roots, with his name meaning “house of spears” in the native tongue. One of the top defensive players in the history of the NFL, Suh has played in two Super Bowls, winning a ring with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2021. He has received several awards throughout his career, including Defensive Rookie of the Year, and has made five Pro Bowl appearances.

Prince Tega Wanogho (Nigeria) –  Prince Tega Wanogho, an offensive tackle, was born in Delta State, Nigeria. Discovered as a teenager by an American scout, he was originally recruited to play basketball in the United States. However, after moving to the US in 2014 and discovering American football at Edgewood Academy in Elmore, Alabama, he found his true calling. Wanogho went on to play college football at the University of Auburn and was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2020.

Ezekiel Ansah (Ghana) –  Ezekiel Ansah, known as Ziggy to his friends and teammates, got his start in sports playing football and basketball before transitioning to American football. It took him time to learn the rules of the sport, but it paid off when he signed a $18.5 million contract with the Detroit Lions in the first round as the 5th overall draft pick in 2013. He also received an $11.9 million signing fee. Currently playing for the San Francisco 49ers, Ansah has his sights set on winning a Super Bowl one day.

Christian Emeka Okoye (Nigeria) –  Football Legend The Nigerian football scene has always been rich with talent, but one man stands out as a true  icon—Christian Emeka Okoye. Nicknamed “The Nigerian Nightmare,” Okoye made a name for himself as a powerful running back for the Kansas City Chiefs from 1987 to 1992 participating in two Pro Bowls, making three playoff appearances, and earning the league rushing title in 1989.

Okoye initially had no interest in football and instead focused on track and field, but after being overlooked for the Olympics by the Nigerian government, he found his way to American football. He quickly became a dominant force in the NFL and is now remembered as a trailblazer for African players in the league. The “Nigerian Nightmare” continues to be a source of inspiration for aspiring football players from Africa and a reminder of the immense talent that Africa has to offer the world of sports.

Madieu Williams (Sierra Leone) – Madieu Williams made a name for himself as a crucial safety for the Cincinnati Bengals from 2004-2007, and he also lent his tackling talents to the Vikings, 49ers, and Redskins since then. Williams earned the Walter Peyton Man of the Year award in 2011, and is known for his charity work through the Madieu Williams Foundation – an organization that focuses on health, nutrition, and fitness education.

Brian Asamoah (Ghana) –  Ghana has always been a breeding ground for top-notch athletes, and Brian Asamoah is no exception. A standout football player at the University of Kansas before making his mark as a linebacker in the NFL.  Brian Asamoah’s journey from Ghana to the NFL is a testament to the strength and determination of African athletes. He continues to inspire young football players from Africa to pursue their dreams and make a name for themselves in the sport.

While we could easily list of dozen more athletes, lets celebrate one who is currently working hard to bring more African players to the NFL:

Osi Umenyiora (Nigeria) –  As a defensive end, he terrorized offensive lines throughout his career and established himself as one of the premier pass rushers in the NFL. Umenyiora played for the New York Giants and the Atlanta Falcons, where he won two Super Bowl championships and was named to two Pro Bowls.

Osi Umenyiora’s parents continued to live in Nigeria during his NFL career and he was deeply impacted by the struggles he witnessed in Nigeria during his frequent visits. Despite his efforts to make a difference through building wells and solar panels, he felt that more needed to be done to give African athletes a path to success in the NFL.

To address this issue, Umenyiora co-founded The Uprise, an organization dedicated to identifying top African athletes for potential careers in the NFL. Through a series of regional camps, The Uprise selected the best 50 prospects to participate in a league event in Ghana last June. Thirteen of these players were then invited to London for the annual international player combine, which feeds into the NFL’s pathway program, offering four spots each year on an NFL practice squad.

The future of African born players in the NFL is increasingly bright and full of potential. With the growing number of African players suiting up each week, it’s evident that the talent and drive of these athletes is undeniable. The future of the NFL is exciting and the inclusion of African born players will only add to its diversity and competitiveness. As the sport continues to expand globally, it’s not a question of if, but when, we will see the next African born superstar lead his team to a Super Bowl victory!

Who’s your favorite or most inspiring African NFL player?

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