May 16th, 2022
Rising UK American Football star Ayo Oyelola has switched the court room for the world’s biggest sports stadiums, winning a professional contract within the National Football League (NFL).
The Nottingham law graduate has been announced to the Jacksonville Jaguars NFL roster and will start training with the side later on this week following completion of medicals.
The 23 year old defensive line backer only took up the sport five years ago during his time at the University of Nottingham, from whose Law School he graduated in 2020.
Oyelola is amongst four players to have been allocated to NFL teams as part of the league’s International Pathway programme and follows in the footsteps of super stars such as Washington Commander’s Efe Obada. Focussing full-time on the sport since his graduation, the determined athlete has overcome a series of challenges, including a complete freeze on sporting action during the pandemic to make it to the world’s highest profile sporting league,
A promising athlete from a young age, the East Londoner had been linked with several professional football clubs. However at 18 years old, faced with a choice between pursuing a career in football or continuing his education, Oyelola chose to pursue his lifelong dream of graduating from law school.
“My parents were really focussed on education, but ultimately they trusted me to make my own decision and supported me with what I wanted to do. I’d visited the University of Nottingham in sixth form as it’s a top global law school and was really impressed by the world-class sporting facilities there.” Oyelola explains.
It was during his time at Nottingham, that American Football first caught the talented sportsman’s eye. Browsing online, he spotted You Tube highlights of New York Giant’s star Saquon Barkley and was instantly inspired.
“I’d taken a short break from sport and finding American Football filled that void – it gave me my passion and energy back. I saw the highlights and thought – this is what I want to do, this is where I want to be. So I went to trial for the University American Football squad, but even before I set foot on the pitch I knew I wanted to make it in the NFL.”
“In my first ever University game against Stirling, I got two sacks in the first two plays and I thought then, I can actually do this. It was a University All Stars game– I think I had 4 or 5 sacks – and everyone watching started to take notice that I was a serious contender. “
Initially contracted to play professionally in Germany after his graduation in summer 2020, the arrangement fell through with the onset of the pandemic and a global freeze on sporting fixtures.
Undeterred, Oyelola stayed in Nottingham studying for his law finals and training hard in every spare moment. His commitment paid off as he was spotted by NFL International and signed up to their International Player Pathway Program (IPP). Final exams finished, he headed out to Florida for training with some of the top NFL coaches and scouts – all held behind closed doors due to ongoing restrictions.
His first stint in the IPP didn’t lead to a NFL spot – instead he was drafted to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the Canadian Football League – the world’s second professional league. This turned out to be a fortuitous move – the side won the Grey Cup – the CFL title – with Oyelola a key defensive figure throughout the season.
Returning to London, he re-joined the IPP and then flew out to train in New Jersey where he received the news last week that he’d been signed to the Jaguars NFL roster.
“This has been my dream for a long time – I’m enjoying this moment, but also already focussing on the next thing I need to do. My personal goal is to be a NFL starter and then win a pro bowl and I’ll continue to do all I can to get there.”
Jason Scott, Head Coach of Nottingham’s American Football programme, added;
“As soon as we saw Ayo play, it was clear he was special – he had an exciting combination of size, speed and power perfectly suited to the game. However it was his mentality which truly shone – he worked incredibly hard; always taking on extra, training in the gym and carefully learning his craft. Every time he was on the pitch it was electric – everyone was waiting to see what he’d do next.”
During his time here, it was important for our coaching team to ensure he was constantly challenged and supported to develop in every area of his game. We’re very fortunate to have a thriving programme here, backed by world-class facilities and support for athletes that all our elite athletes can access.
We’re incredibly proud of all our graduates and what they go onto achieve. Ayo is a fantastic inspiration to the University of Nottingham community – he has shown that if you focus and work hard, you can achieve your dreams whatever they may be.”
Looking to the future, Oyelola is clear that his law degree remains important;
“I’m right at the beginning of my playing career, so for now, that’s my focus. However, I knew I wanted to study law from a really young age and I know I’ll use what I learnt at the University of Nottingham when I’ve finished playing – perhaps supporting fellow players as a sports agent.”
“My advice to fellow University of Nottingham students combining studying and competing at the top level is to give your all. You can make anything you want out of your time here.”
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