Q&A: Osi Umenyiora of the Falcons

Falcons defensive end Osi Umenyiora was born in Britain to Nigerian parents and spent part of his childhood in Nigeria. He moved to the U.S. as a teenager and didn’t start playing football until late in high school in Auburn, Ala., but earned a scholarship to Troy. Umenyiora developed so quickly that the Giants selected him in the second round of the 2002 NFL draft, and he twice was named to the Pro Bowl.

We talked to Umenyiora about his efforts to help African kids develop as football players so they can find opportunities in the United States. (Edited for clarity and space.)

Q: How did this idea come about?

A: Well, if you notice there is a whole bunch of African players coming into the league and in college right now. I realized a lot of them need help to kind of grow. I don't think they have as much exposure to football and a lot of them are really raw. They don't really know the game, kind of the same way I didn't. Basically there are a lot of people who are coming into the NFL and into the college the same way I did. We start late, Africans, and we really focus on education and get into football late. So you have this group of people who are coming in who are very talented, very smart, and raised the same way I was raised. I think it would be best for me to help them out the best way I can. …

Q: What is the football infrastructure like in Africa?

A: It's non-existent. It's not there at all. That's something we are trying to build on right now. I plan on opening up a school in Nigeria, start them young and teach them the game of football. If I am able to bring these kids over here, whether or not they make the NFL or not, they are going to have a better life. Because if you are born into poverty over there, you don't have a chance. As opposed to coming over here, if you are born into poverty you can pull yourself out of it if you really have the drive and the goal to. We want to build a school over there and teach these young athletes how to play the game and get them over here so they can have a better chance at life.

Q: There seems to be more organized basketball than football in Africa. Can that change?

A: Football is not something you can really go out there and you just give them the ball and they start playing. It involves the equipment, it involves coaching. There are a lot of technical aspects to it. It's a lot harder for them to play because of all the poverty. We just don't have the equipment to start playing over there. If you give them a chance, they are going to excel at it as you've seen with the success of the limited number of players we have here now.