Osi Umenyiora on Giants signing Nigerian OT prospect Roy Mbaeteka: 'This is what dreams are made of'
Graphic Image: Igor Lazarevic
EAST RUTTERFORD, NJ (NFL) - Osi Umenyiora's dream of producing NFL prospects out of Nigeria has been realized.
The New York Giants on Friday announced the signing of offensive tackle Roy Mbaeteka, a Nigerian product of the NFL's International Player Program. After mentoring Mbaeteka through the process as an inexperienced prospect, Umenyiora was ecstatic to learn his protégé was signed by an NFL team and the ripple effect it may have in Africa going forward.
"Hard to describe what has just happened here," Umenyiora tweeted upon the announcement. "I'm an emotional wreck. What this means for so many people where We come from is impossible to explain. Thank you Giants. This is what dreams are made of."
Mbaeteka, a 6-foot-9, 320-pound prospect, is one of 13 athletes from nine countries who were selected to compete for a spot in the league's 2022 International Player Program. Instituted in 2017, the program has produced current NFL players like Efe Obada, Jakob Johnson and Jordan Mailata. The Giants are hoping Mbaeteka is the next Mailata, who went on to become the Eagles' starting left tackle in three years despite not having any football experience as a rookie from Australia.
"Once you see him, you know he's physically imposing and in a year or two if you immerse him in football culture, he's going to be fantastic," Umenyiora said, via the team's website. "The Giants took a chance. Not much of a chance, I think. When you see him working, you're going to know what he's about. He is big, strong, physical, extremely intelligent, very athletic. He's built to play offensive tackle in the league. In fact, he reminds me quite a bit of (former Giants teammate) Kareem McKenzie. He has the same temperament. He's very smart, but he's a very athletic player."
Umenyiora has been an integral part of the NFL's international growth since retiring from the league in 2014. The 12-year NFL veteran is one of the founders of NFL Africa and a co-founder of The Uprise, a football program based in Nigeria with the purpose of discovering future NFL prospects. Umenyiora believes Mbaeteka is the first of many Africans yet to be discovered.
"I realized there are so many incredible athletes over there -- I'm talking a hundred times better than I was as an athlete," Umenyiora said. "And they have no chance of bettering their lives, no chance to actually do something constructive with their lives because of the situation over there. In America and in the West, you have opportunities for these guys to do something with all the incredible talent that they have. I recognized that and I decided I was going to start a program to help get these guys opportunities in America. We've had camps in South Africa, Ghana, Senegal. I have scouts in these locations and they're looking for the best athletes we can find and once we find them, we bring them to a location and we start to train them."
Born in London, Umenyiora lived in Nigeria from ages 7-14 before coming to America and discovering his football talent as a teenager. A second-round pick by the Giants out of Troy University, Umenyiora went on to become a two-time Super Bowl champion in New York and finished his career fourth on the franchise's all-time sack list (75.0).
After landing in New York the conventional way in 2003, Umenyiora is now dedicated to helping teams find NFL-caliber talent in uncustomary methods. Befittingly enough, it's his former team taking a leap of faith on a 22-year-old Nigerian, and Umenyiora believes it will be the start of something big.
"A lot of people think this was me, but I had nothing to do with this," Umenyiora said. "The Giants decided they were going to fly him in. They did this on their own. They saw him, they liked him, they flew him in yesterday, and he blew them away. They offered him a contract and here we are. For it to be the Giants of all teams, it means the world to me, it really does.
"What the Giants have done here is truly hard to put into words. There are so many people in Nigeria and in Africa who are going to see this and right now they're going to have hope. Before, they were hopeless. They're going to see this as hope and they're going to start working and working toward something, however unrealistic it is. At least now, they will see that it is possible. They've changed the world, they really have."