New Zealand sprinter Eddie Osei Nketiah thought he was “trying something new”.
He already holds the 100-meter record in his country. In addition, he has some experience in rugby.
Hello, soccer league.
“I think the boys will hit hard and the style of tackle in American football will be very different compared to rugby,” he told the Associated Press. “I just have to be prepared for it.”
Osei-Nketia has signed to play in Hawaii and is among a geographically diverse group of international recruits who will soon fit in at universities across the United States.
Schools are still eyeing Europe — Alabama signed offensive lineman Ulaus Allenen from Finland, and Michigan signed defensive end Emeric Kompa straight from France — but the international base has expanded, too.
Senegalese Mamadou Cissokho committed to Liberty, and recruit Brandon Collier said the West African country has a lot to offer.
“In the next 10 to 20 years, don’t be surprised if the NFL and colleges look more like the NBA,” Collier, founder of PPI Recruits in Germany, said of the potential international impact on American football.
Florida State, Virginia Tech, Oregon State, and Colorado — plus Alabama and Michigan — are among the Power Five schools with international recruits in this cycle’s early signing period.
Collier, an American who played defensive line at Massachusetts, estimated that two or three more of his recruits would sign with Power Five schools by the traditional February signing date, and that there would be more than 20 in total across Division I, which he said. A slight increase from last year. This does not include the annual access of Australian gamblers.
Sweden has both sides of the line covered: 6-foot-8 OT Lucas Simmons is headed to Florida State and defensive lineman Thomas Collins is going to Oregon State. Britain, Germany and Serbia also produced recruits.
Another Swede, Oliver Lundberg Coleman, is the rare European scrambling again to earn a scholarship offer. He was on one of Collier’s summer tours of American college camps and impressed coaches from Western Kentucky, where he plans to sign.
“They offered him before they knew he was from Europe,” Collier said. “If they would have known he was from Sweden right away, they might have had more hesitation, but he would have been better off going back to camp.”
England linebacker Kofi Taylor Barroux, a graduate of the NFL’s London academy, committed to Jackson State but followed coach Deion Sanders to Colorado.
Need for speed
The 21-year-old Osei-Nketia said he’s a longtime fan of Miami Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill, but didn’t consider switching sports until Keiki Misipeka contacted him.
Misipeka was a Pacific Scout with the NFL’s International Player Path Program, who helped turn Australian rugby player Jordan Mailata into a starter for the Philadelphia Eagles. Misipeka has since become an assistant coach at Hawaii.
“I’ve never played a game of soccer,” said Osei-Nketia, who is 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds. “My brother is a big fan of American football and he will also help me catch the roads.”
Osei-Nketia set a record for New Zealand at the World Championships in Oregon last summer when he ran 10.08 in the 100m, breaking the record previously held by his father, Jos.
“I’ve achieved a lot of things on the track for New Zealand. After breaking my dad’s record, it’s time to try something new,” he said.
He wouldn’t be the only international for Hawaii, which also signed 6-foot-8 British offensive tackle Freddie Billing, an NFL Academy graduate.
Komba was ready for a change, too. The former rugby player from Purdue went into coaching American football nearly five years ago and hasn’t looked back.
“I love the speed of this sport – it’s much faster than rugby,” he said. “I like the technical side. It’s more subtle. Sports are about intelligence, too. In soccer, you have to have an IQ to play the game. I fell in love with the sport very quickly – first practice.”
He joined Collier on two summer camp tours of the United States. The first time, he didn’t receive any offers, which “gave me an extra incentive to work.” The 6-foot-6, 250-pounder bike made a better impression at the second ride. He received six offers after his first camp and Michigan’s offers came a few days later.
The 19-year-old Koumba is the first French player to sign with Michigan Football.
“With his measurements and athletic ability—imagine if you gave him some elite training, what kind of prospect he would be,” said Collier. “The rewards greatly outweigh the risks.”
The transfer portal has made it difficult for international students – even domestic students – to find scholarships.
Playing a year or two of high school or prep football is the best route, says Chris Adamson, director of Gridiron Imports.
“Playing here in the United States is more important than ever,” he said. “You are giving yourself the best chance of a fair assessment.”
Gridiron Alinen and German offensive lineman Hannes Hammer—who signed with Virginia Tech—helped find prep schools.
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