Croydon NFL prospect feet firmly on the ground

Lawrence Okoye praises Croydon upbringing

Ahead of moving into another sporting career after his rugby and Olympic discus achievements, former Whitgift School student Lawrence Okoye praised the support from the borough in helping him achieve his wishes of sporting stardom on the other side of the pond.

The 21-year-old was speaking to the media yesterday as he staged a work out in south London to showcase his physical attributes that he is hoping will lead to a professional American football contract next week when the NFL teams pick their players from the famous draft.

Okoye faces the media

“Since I was a youngster I had friends telling I should go to America and play football there but at the time I was playing rugby,” said Okoye who switched to discus in 2010 and made the London 2012 Olympic final.

Following his last-place finish in that Olympic final Okoye thought long and hard about his next move and realising that discus throwers reach their peak in their late 20s and early 30s he started thinking about other options, applying to appear at a NFL tryout in Atlanta whilst on warm-weather training for discus.

“I was there to throw the discus,” said Okoye, whose father, Lawrence Senior, played American football for the University of Nebraska. “But playing in the NFL is something I had in the back of my mind and it is something that I want to prove to myself.”

Okoye impressed at the Atlanta trial and got invited to a ‘Super Combine’ in Dallas where he caught the eye of a number of teams with Lawrence himself admitting that teams in the “double digits” have spoken to him.

But this swift change of sporting career may not have been possible had it not been for the support from his hometown of Croydon.

“Every decision I ever made has been my own,” he explained. “But I have had people that guided me – great mentors in my short sporting career. Dr. Barnett, the Headteacher from the Whitgift School has been one of them – he has really looked after me and always told me that anything I want to do I should just go out and do – and that’s what I am doing now.”

Dr. Barnett saw the potential in Okoye, funding his academic study and even a special discus circle for Lawrence to hone his skills in, but despite the dramatic change in discipline, Okoye has seen nothing but support for the school in South Croydon.

“I called Dr. Barnett when I decided I was going to do this and he was amazing as usual,” said Okoye. “He just said ‘go for it, 100% – I have faith in you I have always believed in you.’ He has made it clear to me that the school will always support me.”

When speaking with Okoye it is clear that his support from his former head teacher is important but the former student, who has a deferred place at Oxford University to study law in 2017 is ready to move on to the next stage of his athletic career.

“I really do appreciate the support from Dr. Barnett because without him everything I am doing now wouldn’t have been possible,” said Okoye. “The school has been great for me but now I have got to branch out and do everything on my own and get the job done.”

Okoye, who will be 22 in October, is hopeful that any potential NFL career will have a direct effect back home and persuade the young people of Croydon, and further afield to try the sport from America.

“I think we have had many examples of sports gaining bigger coverage because a Brit has done well on the international stage,” he said. “Hopefully people will see the sport as less of a novelty in Croydon but more of a game that they want to follow. The NFL wants to make the game more international so I hope I can contribute to that.”

Back home, Lawrence’s proud parents, based in Waddon will be keeping in touch with their son as he spends time meeting potential teams and learning the game, but they, alongside his two older sisters, could swap their lives in Croydon for those of the city of any potential team that takes an interest in Okoye.

“I’d like to think that if I am a success in America then my family would come and move over,” he said. “But at the moment that is the least of my worries – my worries are working hard on a day-to-day basis and if I start thinking too ahead in the future then I am going to fail.

“My Dad is pleased for me but he realises this is a big deal and wants to make sure I work hard every day. He knows that nothing has happened yet and knows if I get on a team I will have to work my arse off to be a success.”

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