As the NFL continues to develop in international markets the International Player Pathway Program is going from strength to strength. The program’s Pro Day will take place on April 1st. Let’s take a closer look at the 2019 participants.
One of the International Player Pathway recruits for 2019 may be familiar to English fans. Christian Wade was an accomplished rugby player. He represented London Wasps, England and the British and Irish Lions squad. His 82 Premiership Rugby tries are the third highest total of all-time. Still only 27, he will turn his hand to American Football. Wade will begin his career as a kick returner and running back. His athleticism, skill set and rugby experience lend themselves perfectly to this. Take a look at clips from his Pro Day below.
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Wade will join the Buffalo Bills for the upcoming season and could have immediate impact as a kick returner.
VALENTINE HOLMES, Running Back/Wide Receiver/Kick Returner, (Australia), Age: 23
Valentine Holmes is a former professional rugby league player from Australia’s National Rugby League. Holmes excelled from an early age and signed his first contract with the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks. He was just 17 at the time. Later, he made his professional debut aged of 19. His versatility allowed him to play both winger and fullback positions. Holmes represented Australia in the 2017 Rugby League World Cup and scored five tries in the team’s quarterfinal match. He followed this up by setting a record with six tries in the semifinals.
Valentine Holmes will join the New York Jets.
JAKOB JOHNSON, Fullback, (Germany), Age: 24
Jakob Johnson first played football for the Stuttgart Scorpions of the German Football League. Then, still in his teens, he moved to Jacksonville where he played one season of high school football. As a result of his performance he was recruited to the University of Tennessee as a linebacker. However, Johnson transitioned to a tight end during his sophomore season. He attended Tennessee for four years.
Jacob Johnson will join the New England Patriots, who will likely find a way to use his versatility.
DURVAL NETO, Defensive Tackle, (Brazil), Age: 25
The Brazilian native wasn’t always a football player. Before playing football he was a judo champion. The sport emphasised both balance and tremendous athletic ability. Neto then started playing American football in Brazil. Over the past four seasons he’s played for the two best teams in Brazil. Durval is known for his willingness to learn.
Durval Queiroz Neto will join the Miami Dolphins.
MAXIMO SANCHEZ, Linebacker, (Mexico), Age: 25
Maximo Sanchez has played in multiple domestic leagues in Mexico. As a result, he was selected to represent Mexico for Team World against the USA U19 team. After leaving school, Sanchez lined up for Tech Monterrey University in Mexico. Monterrey is one of the best university programs in Mexico. Sanchez has also change position. After starting his career as a 4-3 defensive end he transitioned to outside linebacker.
DAVID BADA, Defensive End, (Germany), Age: 23
David Bada developed his skill set as a pass rusher for the Ingolstadt Dukes. After that he moved to the German Football League’s top division for the Schwabisch Hall Unicorns.
MOUBARAK DJERI, Defensive Tackle, (Germany), Age: 22
Moubarak Djeri is the youngest of this year’s hopefuls. Born in Togo, he moved to Germany in 2007. Djeri played for the Cologne Crocodiles of the German Football League. After five seasons with the club he tried out for the Arizona Cardinals. Consequently he signed for the club in 2017. He participated in OTAS (organised team activities). Unfortunately he was released prior to training camp but enrolled into the Pathway program for 2019.
International players have made there way to the NFL in drips and drabs for decades but the International Player Pathway Program gives elite athletes a clear route to getting noticed. Since 2017 Pathway players include:
MORITZ BÖHRINGER, Tight End/Wide Receiver (Germany), Age: 25 – Cincinnati Bengals
Moritz Böhringer was introduced to football in 2012 after watching YouTube highlights of Adrian Peterson. That inspired him to play receiver for the German Football League’s Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns. After working with the NFL’s International Program, he was selected in the sixth round (180th overall) of the NFL Draft. Picked by the Minnesota Vikings, he was the first player to be drafted directly from European American football. Although Böhringer spent the 2016 season on the Vikings practice squad, he was ultimately released. Out of football in 2017, Böhringer joined the Cincinnati Bengals practice squad as part of the 2018 International Player Pathway Program where he transitioned to tight end, presumably to take advantage of his 6’4 frame.
EFE OBADA, Defensive End (UK), Age: 26 – Carolina Panthers
Efe Obada was born in the Netherlands. However, he arrived in London age 10 and was raised in the city and eventually found American Football. Obada played just five games of amateur football with the London Warriors. From there, he signed as a free agent for the Dallas Cowboys in 2015. He played well enough in the preseason to spend part of the 2015 season on the club’s practice squad. He has since had spells on the rosters of the Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons.
In 2017 Obada joined the Carolina Panthers practice squad as part of the 2017 International Player Pathway Program and took advantage of the opportunity by learning all he could. His hard work paid off. In 2018, Obada become the first player from the NFL International Pathway program to make a 53-man roster. Last season, Obada played his first regular season game. In the Week 3 matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals he earned NFC Defensive Player of the Week honours. The award came from his one-sack, one-interception performance.
Not all athletes can afford an NCAA career and some athletes arrive to football in their 20s. For these athletes there is now a clear route into the NFL. The high profile moves of Wade and Holmes will only make this route more visible. The benefits of such a scheme are clear. For the NFL it’s a chance to reach untapped player deposits. For the players though it’s more. The access to top coaches and training facilities means NFL dreams can now become reality.