For the second time in three years, Lawrence Okoye will begin from the ground up as he chases his next athletic dream. Three years ago, Okoye began throwing discus for the first and in under two years he was ranked fifth in the world, and he represented Great Britain in the Olympics. Okoye will be looking to accomplish the same thing as he attempts to jump to NFL. He has landed in the perfect spot for him to realize his immense potential by signing with the San Francisco 49ers. He combination of size, speed, strength, and natural athleticism, along with the quality of coaching he will receive should turn Okoye into a successful player in the NFL.
Okoye is a ridiculous physical specimen. He stands at six feet and six inches tall, while weighing in at 304 pounds or “22 stones” in England. Okoye does not look like your typical 300 plus pond defensive lineman, as he looks like he was chiseled from stone. In his post-draft press conference, Head Coach Jim Harbaugh was asked what his impression of Okoye was and he responded with:
“Inadequate. It was my first impression standing next to him. He’s just an Adonis. Just a great physical specimen of a man. I can think of some other adjectives. Our Creator created a beautiful man.”
Harbaugh’s glowing endorsement of Okoye’s physical stature speaks volumes about the player. Harbaugh has been around the game of football for his entire life and He considers Okoye to be one of the most physically impressive looking player he has seen.
Despite his enormous size, Okoye has tremendous athletic ability. Okoye was budding star in rugby during his time at Whitgift School in Croydon, England. He turned down several contract offers from English Rugby Premier League teams in order to concentrate on preparing for the Olympics in the discus throw.
Okoye had no experience with the sport prior to his training for the Olympics. Okoye has stated that he had to begin from the beginning, “learning how to hold it, how to release it from the fingers.” He followed that up in an interview with Cam Inman, “When I started that journey, I was truly terrible at throwing the discus.”
In his first international competition, Okoye finished sixth with a throw of 59.77 meters at the 2010 World Junior Championships in Athletics. He followed that up in the following year with a gold medal finish in the 2011 European Athletics Under-23 championships. In a meet prior to the Olympics, Okoye broke the British record for discus by roughly five meters with a throw of 68.24 meters. In the Olympics, He qualified for the finals, but finished in 12th with a throw of 61.03 meters. Okoye made tremendous strides in just two years of learning the sport. He went from having no knowledge of the sport to being the British record holder in the discus throw and an Olympic finalist.
Okoye caught the eye of NFL scouts at an impromptu appearance at a regional combine in Georgia. His performance impressed scouts, who invited him to work out at a Super Regional Combine in Cowboys Stadium. He put up numbers that were extremely impressive and would have been high scores at the actual NFL Combine held in Indianapolis, Indiana. His 4.78 40 yard dash time would have placed him in a tie for ninth best out of the defensive linemen. He record a vertical leap of 35 inches, which would have put him in the top five for defensive linemen. His broad jump of 10 feet and 5 inches would have been the third best for all defensive linemen. Okoye is a natural gifted athlete that has shown he can be successful in two vastly different sports and possibly a third.
That athleticism earned this opportunity for him to learn the game of football from one of the best defensive line coaches in the entire league. Niners defensive line coach Jim Tomsula has been instrumental in turning the Niners defensive front into one of the best in the league. Tomsula spent nine years coaching in the now-defunct NFL Europe. NFL Europe was a league that NFL players and undrafted college players used to develop their skills in actual games during the NFL off season. NFL Europe also helped to introduce to hundreds of European and other international players. It is this unique experience that Tomsula will look upon when trying to teach the young Okoye the game of football. It is predicted that Okoye will more than likely make the practice squad this season and it would be interesting to see what a full year of day to day teaching from Tomsula does for Okoye’s development.
Okoye is a major boom or bust project that the Niners are willing to take a chance. Their amount of depth on the team right now allows them to be patient, while the young British Olympian learns the game of football and develops his football skills. Okoye has a lot of hard work ahead of him, but he is willing to put in that work. He fell into the perfect situation with no pressure to perform right away and he can take his time to perfect his craft under the tutelage of Tomsula. His physical stature and attributes gives him immense potential and Tomsula is the best for tapping into that well. If he sticks for the next couple of season, Okoye could turn into a solid to great football player down the road for the Niners.