ACCRA, GHANA -- Earlier this week, Osi Umenyiora was addressing young athletes who had gathered from across the African continent. They were there to show their skills, learn American football and gain exposure at the first NFL Africa Camp.
Speaking at the opening meeting, Osi was taking a second to clearly set the stakes.
"We're here to give you an opportunity to change your life," he said. "That's what we're here for."
I took part in the camp, held June 21-22, as an instructor, helping the wide receivers, and I have to say, hearing those words from Osi gave me chills.
Osi, a two-time Super Bowl champion with the New York Giants, did a lot to bring this event about. He's donated resources to his homeland of Nigeria for two decades, and one of his latest projects, The Uprise, ultimately helped birth the NFL Africa Camp, which took place at the Right to Dream Academy, roughly two hours north of Accra.
Many of the 49 participants, hailing from five countries (Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Senegal and the Democratic Republic of the Congo), were selected after taking part in regional camps hosted by The Uprise, the Ezekiel Ansah Foundation and Cleveland Browns linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah in recent months. This week's event gave these young men the opportunity to be seen and potentially earn an invite to participate in the International Combine or the NFL's International Player Pathway Program, or to attend the NFL Academy (which is for athletes ages 16 to 19) in London.
They are no doubt hoping to follow in the footsteps of three players previously discovered through The Uprise who ended up signing with NFL teams: Chigbo Roy Mbaeteka (New York Giants), Haggai Chisom Ndubuisi (Arizona Cardinals) and Kehinde Oginni Hassan (Kansas City Chiefs).
When getting to know the athletes at the NFL Africa Camp, we learned that a lot of them played other sports, such as rugby, soccer or track and field, and they learned American football by watching videos on YouTube. They might not have been overly familiar with football coming in, but these guys are pure, raw athletes with a ton of potential to develop into really good -- even great -- football players and continue growing Africa’s representation in the NFL.
On the first day, we walked through how to do a number of drills one would find at the NFL Scouting Combine -- how to start the 40-yard dash and short shuttle, along with broad-jump and vertical-jump techniques. I helped teach the receivers essentially how to play the position and run a variety of routes, including very basic three-step slants.
By Day 2, these guys were flying all over the field on go and out routes, hitches, curls, slants -- you name it. They quickly processed a lot of information and ran these routes well and at the correct depths.
I wanted to take a moment here and highlight four wide receivers who really caught my eye with their abilities: Paschal Hans Uzoma Ekeji, Udochukwu Precious Uzuegbu, Samuel Sunday and Onuh David John.
Paschal (6-foot-4, 210 pounds) looked the part in every way. He has the size, was smooth in and out of his breaks and is very coachable. Udochukwu (6-3, 212) was also very coachable and a more natural catcher of the football. Players eligible for the NFL Academy, Samuel (6-2, 191) and Onuh (6-1, 192) were more raw but have the potential to develop into solid receiver prospects with coaching.
Another name to know is Okoye Basil Chijioke, a 6-6, 316-pound offensive lineman who received recognition as the top offensive player of the camp. The 20-year-old, who registered a 34.5-inch vertical jump in the combine-drills portion, was the most NFL-ready player of the group.
The NFL Africa Camp was part of NFL Africa: The Touchdown, a week-long event that also includes a fan event and flag football clinic. An incredible group of former and current NFL players of African descent joined the event, including Owusu-Koramoah (Ghana), Seattle Seahawks OLB Uchenna Nwosu (Nigeria), Houston Texans DE Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (Nigeria) and Indianapolis Colts DE Kwity Paye (Liberia), Mathias Kiwanuka (Uganda), Roman Oben (Cameroon) and Umenyiora (Nigeria).
You'll see more about this camp and trip when a feature I've been working on for NFL 360 premieres later this year. For now, I wanted to shout out the work being done by so many to present young people the chance to one day play in the NFL. It is, put simply, inspiring. And the best part? It's just the beginning.