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 From watching American football on YouTube to the NFL

By Joshua Adetunji

The 21-year-old Nigerian only began playing the sport four years ago, and seemed to have capped his remarkable rise earlier this year when he signed for the Arizona Cardinals in April.ADVERTISEMENT

However, he was cut from the roster four months later. Yet he has vowed to fight his way back onto the road that took him from Abuja to Arizona.

“For me, there is no backing down,” he told BBC Sport Africa.

“It’s all about not giving up. I will continue to pursue my dream. I will just continue to train and work extra hard and correct the errors and the things I feel I should do better or I would have done better.

“[I will] keep pursuing the dream and keep believing and hoping that one day, I will also be among the starters in one of the clubs.”

Standing at six foot six inches tall, Ndubuisi grew up playing football and basketball in Nigeria before finding a passion for American football on the internet.

However, West Africa’s largest and most populous nation has scant players or clubs in a sport which dominates in the United States.

“American football is not a sport that is in Nigeria per say – it is like a sport without hope. There is no future in it,” he said.

”It was basically watching YouTube and going to practice on our own. When we started people thought we were joking.

“As time went on, we started organizing camps to get more people.”

NFL looks to tap into Africa’s potential

In 2021, offensive linesman Ndubuisi joined the UpRise Academy in Ghana, run by two-time Super Bowl winner with the New York Giants, Osi Umenyiora, and former professional basketball player Ejike Ugboaja.

It is part of the push to extend the scouting operation on the continent for the NFL, who have more than 100 professional players of African descent.

The NFL’s ambition to discover more talent on the continent was underlined when it hosted its first events on the continent in June, with the inaugural NFL Africa Camp taking place in Ghana.

”We know that Africa has probably the best athletes in the world,” said Umenyiora, who was born in London to Nigerian parents.

“For the NFL you have to be big, strong, fast, aggressive and intelligent.

“We went to Senegal, South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, and Nigeria. And then we found the best guys that we could, and we brought them all to Accra, Ghana.

“We want to provide infrastructure and knowledge for these guys to know what the game of the NFL is all about. And they’re going to have those opportunities. That’s what we’re here for.”

Speaking at the camp in Accra, NFL International chief operating officer Damani Leech added: ”We have over 40 players from seven different countries.

“We could see ourselves being in Nigeria or South Africa, or another country in future years.”

‘No-one believed I would make it’

Haggai Ndubuisi
Ndubuisi says just signing for the Cardinals has given him hope, despite being cut from the team’s roster

After his spell with the UpRise Academy in Ghana, Ndubuisi was on a path where NFL scouts could cast their eyes on him.

”It was a one-week camp. Three of us were selected and we were invited to participate in the NFL combined camp in London,” he explained.

“I think out of 47, six of us made it from the London NFL combined camp. The three of us from Nigeria and some other three guys.”

From there Ndubuisi was invited to the NFL’s International Player Pathway programme, a ten-week event in Arizona in the United States.

”After my 10 weeks of playing American football in the States during the IPP programme, I got a call from the general manager of the Cardinals,” he recalled.

“It was like they would have to try me out and teach me a couple of things. That was how the Cardinals signed me.”

The NFL’s competition directives allow teams to hold a larger off-season roster but that has to be reduced by 15 August ahead of the new season – and Ndubuisi’s rise was about to plateau.

“It’s all about making the 53-man roster,” sad Ndubuisi.

“Everyone was giving it their best and just trying to show what they are capable of doing. At the end of the day, they pick whoever they want to pick.

”It’s all about the numbers.”

Despite being released, bitterness is far from Ndubuisi’s mind.

American football has a low profile in Nigeria yet he found his way to the doorstep of one of the world’s most lucrative sporting competitions, and he hopes his dreams and that of many others are now only just beginning.

“Truth be told, no one ever believed I was going to make it to this height,” he concluded.

“My ambition is to get a new team. Making it to the league alone has brought hope.”

The new NFL season starts on Thursday, with the Los Angeles Rams beginning the defence of their Super Bowl title against the Buffalo Bills.

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