Once a Chelsea prospect alongside the likes of Mason Mount, Declan Rice and Tammy Abraham, former striker Ayo Oyelola is now looking to fulfil his NFL dreams as safety for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The 23-year-old was assigned to the Florida franchise in March as part of the International Pathway Programme – a scheme instituted in 2017 aimed at helping elite international athletes break into the NFL.
England’s Efe Obada was part of the initial intake and became the first IPP player to make a 53-man roster, playing for the Carolina Panthers and Buffalo Bills before joining the Washington Commanders.
Oyelola is looking to follow in those footsteps, having joined the Jags just five years after falling in love with the sport by watching clips of New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley during lectures.
“I watched the Super Bowl but I didn’t really watch football like that,” he told the PA news agency.
“Just the way he played, it inspired me. I wanted to be a running back at first but I got put on defence so I just ran with it.
“I think safety perfectly suits my skillset. I think I could have been the running back too but I love defence. I prefer it.”
Oyelola started playing American football at the University of Nottingham alongside his law degree and found it a tough learning curve.
“At the start I had no idea what I was doing,” he said. “I questioned many times, ‘do I actually want to do this?’
“I’d played high level sports all my life and then all of a sudden I’m one of the guys who just doesn’t know what he’s doing.
“But I believed in myself, kept pushing and things started to make sense after a couple of months. I started playing well and just kept on going.”
That drive put him on course for the NFL having initially shown potential in the other kind of football.
“From the age of 12 to around 17 I was in academy football,” he said. “It ranged from a Premiership team to the Conference Prem – Chelsea FC, Southend United, Dagenham and Redbridge and Ebbsfleet FC.
Oyelola did not want to overstate his six months with Chelsea and, while he loved the sport, it was an easy decision to leave football to focus on studying law.
“It wasn’t really negotiable for me, it was something that I wanted for myself,” he said. “I had to choose between two pretty good options and I chose law.”
Oyelola has now got another great option, having participated in last year’s NFL IPP training phase following his graduation in 2020.
He was not allocated to an NFL team and instead spent what proved to be invaluable time with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League.
“I think it was a blessing in disguise not getting allocated that year,” he said. “Coming straight from the UK to the NFL is a massive jump.
“I believe I could have done it but just having that year in the CFL to get acclimated to being a pro, playing in the professional game, the preparation that goes into that, it’s been priceless. It’s really helping me.”
The pace and attention to detail have noticeably gone up a notch since linking up with the Jags, where Oyelola is eligible to join the practice squad as an extra member at the end of the IPP pathway.
“I think at the end of the day, if you can help the team it doesn’t matter where you’re from,” Oyelola said.
“My aim is to help the team and be the best me I can be, so my aim’s to make the 53.
“I understand I’m in a very privileged position with the ability to be an extra practice squad player but that isn’t my aim. I want to make the 53.”
If that was not enough for Oyelola – who is back in the UK as part of this week’s Jaguars player tour – there is the chance to play at Wembley on October 30, when Jacksonville host the Denver Broncos.
“That’s definitely my aim when I train,” he added. “I’m really confident about how we’re going to do.”