Okoye, aged 18, was born and grew up in Lagos, Nigeria. His football journey began after being discovered by two-time Super Bowl champion Osi Umenyiora and his ‘The Uprise’ program scouts who invited him to attend their inaugural football talent identification camp in Abuja, Nigeria in 2022. After impressing there, he was invited to NFL Africa’s talent identification camp held in Ghana in the summer of 2022, with his performance earning him a place at the NFL Academy in Loughborough, UK.
The NFL Academy, an elite player pathway program which opened in September 2019, is a major initiative by the NFL, which aims to use football to create life-changing opportunities for young people all around the world.
Based at Loughborough’s world-renowned centre of sporting excellence in the UK, and in partnership with Loughborough University and Loughborough College, the program promotes world-class performance and the development of elite player pathways, supporting student-athletes with NFL best practices and resources.
The announcement – delivered at a packed University stadium that included key speeches from senior leadership team members, including Professor Nick Jennings, Vice-Chancellor and President of Loughborough University – highlights the ongoing success of the NFL Academy, which currently supports 59 student-athletes from nine different countries (Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Nigeria, Sweden and United Kingdom). Since its inception, more than 40 students have secured college football scholarships in the US, with 15 NFL Academy alumni set to play NCAA football in the 2023–24 academic year.
Okoye’s decision to commit to the University of Tennessee, where International Player Pathway program alum and German-native Jakob Johnson also attended, will see him enrol in June and play NCAA College Football in the upcoming academic year.
On signing with the University of Tennessee, Okoye said: “First, I’m grateful to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for He’s the writer of my story. I am thankful for all the support from everyone who is part of the NFL Academy program, my mentor Osi Umenyiora, and all those who have contributed to this special moment for me. This is just the beginning of my journey, and I will continue to work hard to grow and learn every day. While I will always be part of the NFL Academy family, I am excited to join the University of Tennessee and to continue to develop as a player and a young man. I hope I will make my family proud, and that starts with an elite education – which was key to my decision-making – and I can’t wait to take this opportunity and give it everything I have.”
“What an incredible moment for Emmanuel. His athleticism, natural sporting talent, and outstanding personal character makes him an impressive prospect for the game,” said Umenyiora, who was born in the UK to Nigerian parents and is spearheading the NFL’s football development efforts in Africa.
“I am thrilled to see him commit to the University of Tennessee, and I am so proud of his journey in the sport to date. To see him progress through both ‘The Uprise’ and ‘NFL Africa’ programs to join the NFL Academy and see him thrive in that elite football development environment is fantastic to see. Increasing the number of international athletes in the League is a long-term strategic priority for the NFL, and there is a wealth of talent from around the world who, given the opportunity, will make a significant impact on the game in the years to come. Remember Emmanuel’s name, as he has an exciting future ahead.”
“Everyone at the NFL Academy is proud of Emmanuel today and excited to support him as he makes an important next step in both his football and personal journey,” said Lamonte Winston, Head of the NFL Academy. “His time at the NFL Academy has seen him become a much respected and valued member of the program, and his contribution will be felt for years to come. The NFL Academy provides life-changing opportunities for talented young athletes from around the world to excel both in education and elite sport performance, with Loughborough College and Loughborough University as world-leading partners, and this news is indicative of the impact it can have on lives. Emmanuel has set the standard that other talented athletes can aspire to reach, and we wish him well at Tennessee and in the years to come.”
“Emmanuel’s journey showcases that you can be new to football and excel through our program,” said Kris Durham, International Football Development consultant for the NFL Academy, who worked very closely with Emmanuel as he made his decision to commit to the University of Tennessee. “He’s a fantastic example of a crossover athlete who has played the sport for less than a year, yet his talent and hard work shines through, and he has successfully achieved a full scholarship to a leading US university. His story will undoubtedly pave the way for the future NFL Academy prospects and recruits, driving awareness of the program and the opportunities for its talented student-athletes, and I couldn’t be prouder to witness his journey so far, nor be more excited about what his future holds.”
The NFL Academy offers talented student-athletes aged 16–19 a pathway to combine their full-time education alongside a transformative life skills program and intensive training in the sport, under the guidance of a professional coaching team in an elite sporting set-up.
Okoye represented the NFL Academy in three games, at defensive end and on special teams. He played in games against IMG Academy, Scotland U19’s and Nottingham University. At the NFL Academy Combine, Emmanuel jumped a 45.5" vertical and a 11' 3" broad jump. Both would be NFL records for defensive ends.
To find out more about the program, please visit, https://www.nflacademy.com/