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Now, the 40-year-old, UK-born athlete is seeking to discover expertise who will assist remodel American soccer right into a extra internationally appreciated and celebrated recreation.
CNN lately spoke with Umenyiora in Abuja, Nigeria, throughout The Uprise’s regional tryouts, and after the inaugural NFL camp in Ghana.
The next interview has been edited for size and readability.
CNN: How did the concept for the Worldwide Participant Pathway program come about?
Umenyiora: Once I left America and I went to the UK because the [NFL] ambassador, I used to be attempting to determine how I might really assist the sport increase. So I mentioned to myself, ‘you are attempting to introduce this American soccer recreation into the UK — you virtually should have gamers from right here to provide the whole nation one thing to root for, or possibly a minimum of pique your curiosity.’
The entire thought is … to discover a approach to get folks from different areas of the world into the NFL, so these different international locations will change into extra invested in really watching the sport. So I went to the [NFL] commissioner [Roger Goodell] with this concept. The Worldwide Participant Pathway program is a program that enables folks from everywhere in the world — who do not have the alternatives to go to school [and play football] in America — to get checked out.
CNN: And the way did NFL Africa and The Uprise begin?
Umenyiora: During the last 10 years, what I had seen was an enormous affect — numerous African names throughout the Nationwide Soccer League. And in order I began to note that, I noticed that no one was actually highlighting these folks. Ejike Ugboaja was already [scouting] with basketball and he at all times had this concept in his head about American soccer and he got here to me in 2014 to assist sponsor [young Nigerian athletes].
I used to be capable of put two and two collectively as a result of as I used to be noticing all these African gamers within the NFL, after which I’d come again dwelling to Nigeria and I [see] these large, sturdy, quick bodily folks — all they’re on the lookout for is a chance.
So I mentioned reasonably than simply doing all of the common stuff that we do when it comes to charity, why not give folks the chance to assist themselves? I used to be within the NFL and an NFL ambassador on the time, so all I needed to do was inform them that is what must be achieved. And so they agreed with me — that is once we began The Uprise camp.
CNN: On a continent that is extra targeted on soccer and basketball, why attempt to recruit for American soccer?
Umenyiora: I perceive American soccer. And I additionally perceive that due to the market in America and the quantity of gamers, it should provide you with rather more alternatives than it should taking part in basketball. With basketball and soccer, you are coping with the whole world when it comes to making it to the skilled leagues. Within the NFL, you are coping with largely America.
Our folks right here have the bodily traits and the traits to have the ability to succeed the place no one else on this planet might. So we’ve a bonus there. In some situations, numerous these children’ future is in American soccer. In the event that they’re attempting to get an schooling or make it to the best stage, it is there. Loads of the NFL gamers or the individuals who play soccer in America on the highest stage, they have been basketball gamers. The actions are very related — soccer is only a lot harder.
CNN: You could have three success tales from the camp already signed to the NFL. How do you know they’d what it takes, and the way do you notice these you suppose will make it into the NFL?
Umenyiora: It is fairly troublesome to clarify, however it’s as a result of I performed the sport for thus lengthy and I performed within the NFL for a really lengthy time frame. You begin to discover little traits that folks have that may make it to the best stage. So the fellows who we did discover, not solely have been they large and powerful and clever, they have been aggressive.
And so they have these little actions; like as an offensive lineman, you have acquired to have the ability to transfer laterally actually shortly. As a defensive lineman, you have acquired to have the ability to get low and be capable to bend underneath folks and have the power and the leverage.
So although they’d by no means achieved it earlier than, whenever you take a look at them, you’ll be able to see that there is a distinction between [prospects] — this man does issues naturally that this different man would not, and in the event you encourage it and also you nurture it, this may be one thing particular.
CNN: What are your future plans for The Uprise and NFL Africa on the continent?
Umenyiora: We will have a construction or a facility the place we carry within the highest stage of coaches and so they are available on possibly a four- or five-month foundation. Once we discover these athletes, we home them, we feed them, we give them education, [and] we additionally educate them the basics of American soccer.
I need to see a time the place a minimum of 15 to twenty% of all of the gamers within the Nationwide Soccer League are from right here. [Also], folks ought to be watching American soccer as a result of their brothers are being very, very profitable taking part in that recreation. I need extra folks to be engaged within the sport and to know the success and to know the sport.
CNN: Now that tryouts are achieved in Ghana, how did they go — and what’s subsequent for these chosen?
Umenyiora: The blokes have been excellent — rather a lot higher than they have been in Nigeria, so you would clearly see that they’ve achieved numerous enchancment. So now after the tryouts, what we’ve is six gamers who have been [aged] underneath 19 who’re going to be going to the NFL Academy within the UK, after which 9 of the gamers who’re over 20 shall be chosen to go to the Worldwide Participant Pathway mix in London. So a complete of 15 gamers even have the chance to alter their lives.