Lawrence Okoye's hopes of participating for the San Francisco 49ers' at Wembley later this year have received a huge boost after a ringing endorsement from defensive line coach Jim Tomsula.
The 2012 British Olympic discus thrower, who was signed by last year's NFL runners-up last month, is "progressing very well" considering his total lack of experience with the game.
After supposedly signing a three-year deal with the franchise in May Okoye was expected to filter into the practice squad this season, there by missing out on a game in front of his home crowd.
But after impressing throughout his training sessions Tomsula believes that a place in the official 53-man roster is not impossible.
"I am really excited about the possibilities of Lawrence being here," the 45 year-old is quoted as saying by The Express.
“Our owners, general manager and head coach, they are the people that make the final decisions on signings. But did I push for him? Absolutely. Did I want him to be here? Absolutely.
"He has speed, strength and athleticism - he has all the tools. I have a blast coaching him."
The 6ft 6in, 21st 10lb Okoye is being slowly molded into a Defensive End, and his size and strength certainly suggest he could be the ideal athlete for a role in the NFL.
Dubbed "a very intelligent man" by his coach, Okoye has been trying to soak up as much information as he can from San Francisco’s stalwarts and Tomsula added: “I’m doing a lot of one-on-one work with him and he’s progressing very well. He's picking things up very quickly. He's a natural.
“You have to remember that we have a guy here who, two weeks ago, had never been in an American football stance, so we have been working on the fundamentals of the game and body positions.
“Our veterans are one of the reasons I wanted him to be here. Our group is fantastic in terms of mentoring.
“I will be training one group of players and I will look around and there’s [defensive end] Justin Smith or [defensive tackle] Ray McDonald helping Lawrence with his hand placement or his stance.”
Through it all Okoye has kept a remarkably calm head. Despite 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh describing Okoye as an “Adonis”, Tomsula revealed: “I can’t say enough good things about him. This is a guy who was a premier athlete, a superstar and in the Olympics, but he has put his ego on the shelf.
“He’s a very humble man who wants to work for it – he’s willing to earn it. And I can’t help but root for guys like that.”
Regardless of his astonishing progress Tomsula remains guarded when it comes to Okoye’s future with the 49ers, with pre-season training not yet a month old.
Tomsula said: “It’s way too premature to make a statement on that. If I say he will be on the practice squad, then maybe I am undervaluing the guy. And if I say he will make the roster, then I am setting him up for failure.
“But you have a guy who is representing the UK extremely well. In terms of work ethic, toughness and humility, Lawrence has got them all.”
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