“There’s no way to sugar coat it – it’s going to be tough”

Reality check for Lawrence Okoye from teammates Whitner and Smith

by Andrew McSteen

Lawrence Okoye’s teammate Donte Whitner visited London recently as part of the promotion for the NFL International Series with two games at Wembley; the Minnesota Vikings against the Pittsburgh Steelers in September and the San Francisco 49ers against the Jacksonville Jaguars in October.

Speaking to A Head For The Game, Whitner had some advice for Lawrence and reminisced about his first training camp as a rookie.

(C) Sean Ryan/NFL UK
(C) Sean Ryan/NFL UK

A Head For The Game: What advice would you give to Lawrence during training camp?

Donte Whitner: It’s going to be tough. There’s really no advice you can give somebody unless you’ve walked in their shoes before.  I can give a student athlete or an athlete coming out of college advice, but I’ve never gone to an Olympics or done any of that so I know that that transition from being an Olympian to the NFL is going to be really tough – there’s no way to even sugar coat it.

A Head For The Game: What is the average day like for Lawrence in training camp?

Donte Whitner: You go out there and you have two practises a day sometimes. You have to live during the day, your body gets sore, you have guys trying to knock you over and run you over all day long.

A Head For The Game: How do you think Lawrence will do in training camp?

Donte Whitner: It’s tough, but a guy with his physical ability and a guy like line coach (Jim) Tomsula really motivating him and teaching him is going to help.

Lawrence is taking it step-by-step and coach Tomsula is taking him all the way back to where we were as children – you can hear him talking to him each and every day all day long.

A Head For The Game: Do the San Francisco 49ers players feel like a father figure around Lawrence?

Donte Whitner: Yes. I had a small one on one with him where he asked me ‘how do you retain all this information?’, because each and every day, people think football is so simple.

A Head For The Game: What information can Lawrence expect to be taking in during the training camp?

Donte Whitner: You might have 100 different play calls in different defences – sometimes you just get lost out there.

So one time he (Lawrence) asked me “how do you retain all that information?”

A Head For The Game: How do you retain all of that information?

Donte Whitner: Really, it comes from years and years and years of playing football and it is all somehow the same, just different terminologies.

That’s what I told him when we had that conversation and coach Tomsula was there also and he told him ‘you have to take it one day at a time’, you have to learn the basics and eventually two years after being on the practise squad, or making the team, you’ll get to that level so you have to take it one step at a time and that’s what he’ll do – you can’t worry about too much at once.

Smith keeping an eye on Okoye
Another teammate of Okoye’s is Aldon Smith, the 49ers linebacker and he has already seen enough to be impressed with, although admits that it was interesting to see someone who had never play the game before learn from scratch.

“I wasn’t really curious,” said Smith, who is in his third-year with the 49ers. “I know a guy like him is an Olympian and is really strong, when he puts the pads on I think strength is going to show and show the way he plays. He did a good job.”

“This is his first year playing football so every day he’ll continue to get better and improve.”

The San Francisco 49ers play the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday 27 October 2013 as part of the NFL International Series at Wembley Stadium.

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