NFL: Scottish sprinter Praise Olatoke aiming for American football stardom

Born in Nigeria. Bred in Glasgow. Bound for the NFL?

Praise Olatoke has walked the unconventional path in life before, so when the opportunity arose to swap the running track for the American football field, the decision came quicker than a 100m sprint.

The 23-year-old finds himself in the final weeks of the NFL’s International Player Pathway, in which 16 athletes from the around the world who may never before have known the brown leather of a football are given the opportunity to step on to the sport‘s biggest stage.

Some would be daunted by ditching their successful career in athletics to pursue a notoriously cut-throat and gruelling new discipline, going from short-distance sprinter to wide receiver.

But, when asked if he can envisage a scenario where he catches the winning touchdown in a Super Bowl, it’s clear Olatoke has taken that Scottish gallus streak stateside.

“1000%,” he told BBC Scotland. “Crazier things have happened, so I wouldn’t say this is out of the ordinary. I think it’s bound to happen – and it will happen. It’s only a matter of time.”

Bold. But this dream isn’t one that recently sprung into the young man’s mind. While he was representing Scotland in athletics, scorching out the blocks and climbing the world rankings, his finish line looked different.

‘The doors are open, I have to take it’

American football has grown exponentially in the UK over the past decade. Yet still, there’s probably not many kids kicking about the playgrounds of Glasgow’s schools telling their pals they’re going to play in the NFL one day. Olatoke, on the other hand, told anyone who would listen.

“You could ask my friends in high school,” he says. “I would tell them that I’m going to play American football. I don’t know how, I don’t know where. It’s always been something since I was 15 I wanted to do. Now that the doors are open, I have to take it.

“It’s been a grind, honestly, but I can definitely see improvement. From day one, I could barely understand which players go where. Now I’m able to visualise play concepts, so I’m seeing a massive improvement.”

On Wednesday, Olatoke will put that improvement to the test when the IPP’s class of 2024 – which includes former rising star of Welsh rugby Louis Rees-Zammit – show their new skills in front of scouts from across the United States.

Impress and a spot on one of the league’s 32 franchises could be his. Not only would it be a proud moment for the former Ohio State runner as an individual but also as one of the few Scots to compete in the NFL.

“I was born in Nigeria but moved to Scotland when I was five,” Olatoke says. My family are still based there and I lived there until I was 18. I did all my schooling in Glasgow.

“I grew up and represented Scotland in athletics, so it would be sick to represent Scotland in American football. It’s definitely a goal of mine, to be one of the few people that means Scotland can say ‘We have an NFL player.’

“Scotland has athletes. I don’t see why American football can’t come to Scotland and why Scottish people can’t thrive and play American football at a high level.”

Lawrence Tynes holding Super BowlLawrence Tynes holding Super Bowl

Lawrence Tynes holding Super Bowl

Despite the short list of names to go from Scotland to America’s most popular sport, the saltire has been flown at the Super Bowl before. Greenock-born Lawrence Tynes kicked field goals in both of the New York Giants’ 2008 and 2012 Vince Lombardi trophy successes.

If Olatoke can achieve his immediate goal of earning a jersey, it won’t be long before he looks to be the next Scot to slip one of those illustrious Super Bowl rings on to his finger.

“That’s every player’s dream,” he says. “You don’t work this hard for this long, and put yourself through all this, to not at least try and win a Super Bowl.

“It’s definitely something I want to see for myself in the future.”

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