Amateur football leaders and the Amobi Okoye Foundation join forces with players from Texans, Bucs and Jets to push international gridiron boundaries
A group representing the International Federation of American Football (IFAF), USA Football and the Amobi Okoye Foundation will visit Nigeria from March 12-22 as part of a continuing initiative to establish the sport of American Football in Africa.
The traveling party is led by IFAF President Tommy Wiking, USA Football Executive Director and IFAF Treasurer Scott Hallenbeck, IFAF Development Director for Africa Marc-Angelo Soumah, IFAF Development Manager Jack Reed and representatives of the Amobi Okoye Foundation.
The group includes four current NFL players - Amobi Okoye and Connor Barwin of the Houston Texans, Frank Okam of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and James Ihedigbo of the New York Jets. They will spearhead the fourth annual C.A.T.E. (Changing Africa Through Education) program run by the Amobi Okoye Foundation, which will include the C.A.T.E. scholarship program, a Books Abroad donation and free medical clinics. The foundation also plans to build a college prep school for students who excel at both academics and athletics.
Former Augustana College head coach Jim Barnes and WV Wesleyan College special teams coordinator / linebackers coach Willie Robinson will conduct two coaching clinics and two player camps during the visit to introduce the basics of American football to Nigerian coaches and athletes.
“We will hold train the trainer coaching clinics to teach the fundamentals of American football,” explained Barnes, who like Robinson has coached previously overseas. “We will be educating first time football coaches to empower them to continue to develop the game in Nigeria.
“When I have coached overseas before, I have always been welcomed by a passion and enthusiasm for American football and am excited to be a part of taking the game to new territories. I am sure that when we put a football in the hands of a Nigerian coach or player for the first time, it will spark that same passion.”
The Amobi Okoye Foundation is leading the inauguration of a national federation in Nigeria. On Sunday, March 13, the Nigerian-born Houston Texans defensive tackle plans to create history when he confirms the birth of Africa’s first American football federation in his home country. Once established, the national federation and IFAF will initially plan to start two high school tackle football leagues of six schools each and a youth flag football program.
“Seeing American football played in Nigeria and in other countries in Africa would be a dream come true for me,” said Okoye, who moved to the United States aged 12 and was the youngest ever player selected in a NFL Draft when the Texans picked him in the first round (10th overall) in 2007.
“In wider terms, it will benefit communities and young people by teaching the values of teamwork and dedication and create opportunities to succeed in a sporting environment. If we can establish school leagues and interest among the children here, the game will thrive.”
During the visit, IFAF will discuss plans aimed at establishing an African continental federation to govern the game in Africa with its headquarters located in Nigeria. IFAF has also initiated introducing the game to Senegal and the Congo.
The sport of American football is currently governed in 59 countries by IFAF through four continental federations – Asia, Europe, Oceania and Pan-America. In addition to spreading the appeal of the sport internationally, establishing Africa as a fifth territory would satisfy one of the many requirements necessary to apply for International Olympic Committee (IOC) recognition.
“American football continues to push new boundaries and this is arguably IFAF’s greatest and most exciting challenge in spreading the game’s popularity,” said IFAF President Tommy Wiking.
“Other continents have thrown a football for the first time because they have seen the game on television, but we are entering territory that has not been introduced to American football in that way. So we really are starting from the beginning.”