Even if you are an avid football fan who grinds tape, you have probably never heard of Kenneth Odumegwu. And that’s because he has never played a down of organized football. But now he is a member of the Green Bay Packers’ roster.
Odumegwu is part of a relatively recent NFL project to find talent in other countries and expand the league’s brand around the world. Rotating divisions, the International Pathway Program gives teams the ability to add foreign players with limited or no football experience a path to become a professional. There are currently four alumni of the program on active NFL rosters — Jordan Mailata (Australia – Philadelphia Eagles), Efe Obada (UK – Washington Commanders), Jakob Johnson (Germany – Las Vegas Raiders), and David Bada (Germany – Washington).
This year, for the first time, two divisions were awarded with players. So, after the other six divisions have already had their chances, the NFC North and the AFC West will have extra players. They carry one extra roster spot in training camp. The player might make the 53-man roster or go through waivers. If nobody claims him, the original team has a chance to keep him on the practice squad with an extra spot. The idea is to allow players with special physical traits to learn the sport and develop.
That’s why the Packers chose Odumegwu, a 22-year-old defensive lineman from Nigeria. (Six of the eight IPP players from this class are Nigerian.)
Kenneth Odumegwu is from Anambra State in Nigeria and was part of the Educational Basketball program in his home country. He made the transition to football and was part of the Osi Umenyiora‘s NFL Africa Touchdown Camp in Ghana, where he ended up as the defensive MVP.
That performance led to an opportunity to participate in the International Combine in England on October 4. Later, he practiced in Arizona and Florida for weeks to start this year, giving NFL teams the opportunity to watch him.
And one of his motivations to play football is a desire to be in a better place, with a better quality of life.
“There’s less development in the country [than before],” Odumegwu told ESPN right before the London combine last year. “Less things are in order and things are not going well. You have to be wise and strategic about your every move in the country.”
There isn’t any certainty about his football future and how the Nigerian defender will develop as a football player. But his physical tools are impressive. Odumegwu is a 6’5”, 266 lb. athlete. He reportedly runs a 4.8 40-yard dash and has a 33.5” vertical jump.
The best-case scenario is what happened to Jordan Mailata. The Australian offensive tackle was a rugby player in Oceania, and his physical traits were so impressive that the Philadelphia Eagles drafted him in the seventh round in 2018. After learning the game and recovering from an injury, Mailata started playing in 2020 and got a four-year, $64 million extension before his first season as a projected starter in 2021. He’s become a solid starter.
“My advice to the players coming into the program would be to enjoy and respect the process,” Mailata said. “Give it everything you’ve got. Embrace the opportunity and don’t let it go to waste. Hard work will always outlast talent.”
So far, 37 international players have signed with NFL teams since the start of the program. They were allocated, drafted, or signed as free agents. This year, besides Odumegwu, there are five other prospects from Nigeria, one from France, and one from Australia on the program.
“To see this hugely talented group of players be allocated to NFL rosters is very exciting, and a testament to the success of the NFL’s global football development programs for international athletes,” said Peter O’Reilly, NFL Executive Vice President, Club Business, Major Events & International. “The International Player Pathway is a critical program in identifying, supporting, and enabling athletes from around the world and we look forward to seeing each player’s NFL journey unfold as they become global ambassadors for the sport.”
Odumegwu has a long way to go to be an impactful player for the Green Bay Packers. But he has gone through an unusual path to be where he already is and deserves this potentially life-altering opportunity.
2023 International Pathway Program players:
Green Bay Packers – DL Kenneth Odumegwu, 22, Nigeria
Chicago Bears – OL Roy Mbaeteka, 23, Nigeria
Detroit Lions – TE Patrick Murtagh, 23, Australia
Minnesota Vikings – DL Junior Aho, 24, France
Denver Broncos – DL Haggai Chisom Ndubuisi, 22, Nigeria
Kansas City Chiefs – OL Chukwuebuka Godrick, 22, Nigeria
Las Vegas Raiders – DL David Ebuka Agoha, 21, Nigeria
Los Angeles Chargers – DL Basil Chijioke Okoye, 21, Nigeria