Since its inception in 2019, the NFL Academy has forged an unparalleled reputation as one of the sports leading international player pathway programmes, with more than 40 graduates securing college football scholarships.
This year, however, the success of the academy has reached new heights, as six players committed to U.S. Division I colleges – including the most recruited player in NFL Academy history, Daniel Akinkunmi.
Born in London, the three-star offensive lineman secured over 30 Division I scholarship offers before committing to the University of Oklahoma. Named the number one player in Europe and invited to the 2024 All-American game, Akinkunmi is determined to follow in the footsteps of former Oklahoma Sooner and 10-time Pro Bowler, Trent Williams.
“I’ve always said I want to try and go past Trent Williams. I’ve always compared myself to him in high school and going into college. I’m trying to beat those numbers before I even get to Oklahoma,” Akinkunmi told Decyfr.
“Then [the goal] is definitely to be taken in the first round.”
Akinkunmi wasn’t the only Academy player to receiver multiple Division I scholarship offers, however, with defensive lineman Lopez Sanusi pulling in four offers before eventually committing to Boise State University.
After growing up in the U.S., Nigeria and Ireland – where he played with the Belfast Trojans – Sanusi’s transition into the academy was one that took his love of the game to another level.
“When I left Ireland, I joined the NFL Academy where it’s eat, breathe football. We wake up, it’s football, go to sleep, it’s football.
“That’s when it became like, yeah, the NFL could be real and it could be a goal for me.”
This September, the NFL announced that teams will have an additional practice squad spot reserved specifically for an International player, starting 2024 – providing players like Sanusi and Akinkunmi with a potentially unique opportunity.
?️ "NFL Academy eats, breathes football."
— Decyfr Sport (@DecyfrSport) December 6, 2023
For Akinkunmi, the journey from posting clips of positional movement drills online to receiving offers from the most renowned U.S. college football programmes has been rewarding, albeit surreal, whilst also highlighting the potential of the NFL Academy when developing international talent.
“The academy has done an amazing job of creating a program that creates experiences, opportunities and pathways.
“This is only going to grow and get better and better as time goes on and, with more recruits like me, I feel like there’s just so much room for growth.”
Within the last year, the NFL Academy has repeatedly demonstrated its commitment to said growth – reinforcing their coaching staff by hiring former Cleveland Browns and New York Jets assistant coach, Steve Hagen, alongside two-time Pro Bowler, Randy Starks and former Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle, Chase Baker.
Recognising the potential that international players have, Starks saw his new role as “a good opportunity to come over and expand the game,” he told Decyfr.
“I see the game growing, it’s growing each year,” Starks added.
This was reinforced by Baker, who emphasised the need for “the continued resources and support of the NFL,” in order to maximise the impact of the academy.
“It’s still in the infancy, there’s a lot of growth still to come here.
“We need the NFL to continue to give these guys those opportunities, like they are,” Baker said.
Thanks to the publicity surrounding the NFL Academy’s historic 31-14 win over Florida’s IMG Academy in October 2023, the academy will support 62 students from 13 different countries (UK, France, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Italy, Czech Republic, Austria, Belgium, Nigeria, Ireland and Senegal) across the 2023-24 academic year.
With ambassadors like Patrick Mahomes, Odell Beckham Jr and Harry Kane, paired with an undeniable wealth of young talent, the academy could play a critical role in the NFL’s continued internationalisation.
NFL Academy is recruiting for the next academic year, if you want to learn more about this life-changing opportunity, click here to find out how to apply https://www.nflacademy.com/.
You can also follow the NFL Academy’s season and receive regular updates @nflacademy across Twitter, Instagram and TikTok.
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