From Croydon Arena to Candlestick Park: Waddon’s Olympic discus thrower Lawrence Okoye announced last night that he has been signed as a free agent with the San Francisco 49ers NFL team.
“Proud to announce that I will be signing with the San Francisco @49ers!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Tweeted the 21-year-old.
Okoye’s decision to pursue a career in American football is a massive blow to British athletics, where former chief coach Charles van Commenee identified the Croydon Harrier as a potential international medal-winner for Britain for the next decade.
But his multi-million dollar three-year NFL contract represents a success in yet another sport for former Whitgift schoolboys – Okoye is of the same generation of pupils from the South Croydon school as England rugby squad player Elliot Daly, Surrey cricketer Freddie van der Bergh, and Chelsea winger Victor Moses.
Okoye was not in the first 200-or-so former college players selected in the NFL draft staged in New York City over the weekend, but the British discus record-holder was quickly snapped up for the defensive line by the 49ers, whose senior coach described the 6ft 6in tall, 21-stone athlete as “an Adonis”.
According to a 49ers blog, Okoye will “likely receive more media coverage this spring than much of the 49ers’ draft class”.
Above: Lawrence Okoye outlines his hopes for his future as an American football player after his trials in Dallas earlier this month
“He’s just an Adonis,” Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers coach said. “Just a great physical specimen of a man. I can think of some other adjectives. Our Creator created a beautiful man.”
The 49ers blog reports that Harbaugh had been impressed with Okoye’s rugby-playing background – he’d been a member of London Irish’s Academy, as well as helping Whitgift win the Daily Mail Cup at Twickenham. “So, you maybe start to put the pieces together and say, taking on football at this time in his life, I can see this guy doing it,” Harbaugh said.
The 49ers’ gain is undoubtedly British sport’s loss. “He was on the verge of breaking through, in my opinion, to being the best in the world,” Okoye’s discus coach, John Hillier, told Athletics Weekly.
But another former south London athlete, Jade Johnson, a European and Commonwealth long jump medal-winner called Okoye’s move “a great decision”.
Criticising the national governing body, Johnson Tweeted that they “never look after their athletes”.
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