British discus record-holder Lawrence Okoye insists he is growing more comfortable with the nuances of American football after holding a pro day-style workout in his home town of London on Wednesday.
The 6-foot-6, 308-pounder is being tabbed as a defensive end in the NFL as he battles to complete a high-profile switch from track and field to the gridiron.
After working his way through a series of football drills at London's Soccerdome, the 21-year-old said he's beginning to feel more comfortable each time he steps on the field.
"Every day is another step outside my comfort zone, but it is an exciting time," Okoye said. "I'm getting used to playing football. I've got a lot of work to do before I can get with a team. I'm just making sure that I work hard every day. I've got to keep my head down and keep grinding, but I'm prepared to do that. If I look too far ahead, I could fall flat on my face.
"I'm coming from nothing to potentially playing in the most competitive league in the world, but I really want to do it. I don't want to look back in 50 years and wonder what might have been."
Okoye, who placed 12th in the discus finals of the London Olympics last summer, turned heads at the NFL Super Regional Combine in Dallas, posting measurables that now have attracted the interest of a "double-digit number of teams."
Among those reportedly interested in drafting or signing Okoye are the San Francisco 49ers and the New Orleans Saints, who have hosted visits with the British Olympian. Despite growing interest from NFL clubs, the native of Croydon, South London, is remaining level-headed ahead of next week's draft in New York.
"It would be pretty audacious of me to say I should be drafted when I've never played a down of American football before," Okoye said. "But it's a crazy world, and we'll see what happens. I'm sure I will be with an NFL team either through the draft or via free agency and the important thing is that I get in the right program and continue to progress as much as possible.
"I understand there's a chance I end up on a practice squad while I'm learning the game, and I'm prepared to be patient. It all depends on how hard I work and how quickly I pick up the game. A lot of this is down to me, and that's the positive thing about this whole process. There is no replacement for actually playing the game, so I have to make sure I keep working on my football drills so I'm ready to contribute to an NFL team as soon as possible."
Okoye insists he long has been a fan of the NFL, watching up to nine hours of live action each Sunday via Sky Sports and Channel 4 in the United Kingdom. While he does not follow a particular team, he did admit that his favorite quarterback to watch was Green Bay Packers signal-caller Aaron Rodgers and the best defensive end in football is J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans.
With two regular-season games being played in London in 2013, the NFL continues to grow in popularity in the United Kingdom. And as the league's profile continues to soar overseas, Okoye believes more elite athletes will switch sports and try their luck in the NFL.
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"The NFL wants global demand so it has to expect global supply as well," Okoye said. "As the NFL continues to progress internationally I think we will see more guys doing what I am doing. This is a sign of things to come."
Okoye was put through his paces by Tony Allen, who oversaw the NFL's international player development program during the days of the NFL Europe league and currently is serving as head coach of the London Warriors amateur team.
"Lawrence is a raw talent," Allen said. "He has good size and he moves really well for a big man. When it came to the football drills, you could see that he had done them before and he was not as raw as I expected. He is an athlete with tremendous core strength.
"The challenge is to find an NFL team who can see he is a good athlete and spend time developing him and be patient with him. Any NFL team who signs Lawrence is going to need to invest time in him. That's what it's going to take for him to make it in the NFL."