Home Play by Mail NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars Ayo Oyelola on football move to Chelsea for football

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars Ayo Oyelola on football move to Chelsea for football

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The sport has always been easy for Ayo Oyelola and he always believed he would play professionally. He just didn’t know which one.

The Londoner has shown promise as an outside center in rugby and on the 100m track. But football was the Chelsea fan’s first love.

“I didn’t really care about anything else. It was a big part of my life since I was five – I just wasn’t allowed to play for a real team until I was 11 because my parents are pretty strict. I had to focus on my 11+ exams and was just playing in the park with the older kids. It was my training, ”explains the 23-year-old player.

Sport has always been easy for Ayo Oyelola and he always believed he would play professionally

Oyelola trained with Reece James (left) and Mason Mount (right) with the Chelsea football team

Oyelola trained with Reece James (left) and Mason Mount (right) with the Chelsea football team

“I was really good at rugby, but I couldn’t do academy football and play county rugby. I ran the track at a reasonably high level. But being from London, I made the decision most kids would make.

Playing as a striker, he earned a place at Chelsea’s academy aged 13, training and playing with future Premier League stars.

“Mason Mount was in the upper age group most of the time, but I trained with him. I trained with Tammy Abraham, Dominic Solanke and all the guys in the age group above me. But the guys who were in my age group were Eddie Nketiah and Reece James,” Oyelola says.

After his release, stints at Dagenham & Redbridge and Ebbsfleet followed before Oyelola returned to his back-up plan – studying law at the University of Nottingham.

“I wanted to be a professional athlete, but I also really wanted to go to college. It happened at the age when I just felt like college was what I wanted and needed. So I decided to do that in football. I’ve always been good at written subjects and subjects where you can make an argument,” he said.

“I could have played football in college, but as I always have been, if I don’t aspire to turn professional, I probably won’t. So I chose to focus only on education because at this point I wanted to be a lawyer more than a football player.

“But when you’ve been playing sports your whole life and all of a sudden you’re just a student, it’s quite difficult to deal with mentally.” It took me a few months to realize that I needed high level sport in my life.

But he eventually traded football for football and joined the Jacksonville Jaguars

But he eventually traded football for football and joined the Jacksonville Jaguars

Now in 2017 and with football in its past, it was in a boardroom that a YouTube algorithm decided its future. He stumbled upon a video of New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley.

“I researched the type of athleticism they had, size and speed. I just made the decision that I can do it if I apply myself. I know it won’t be easy, but I can do it.

“At that time, there was a huge void in my life. It was the first year – I didn’t have sports in my life. And I really didn’t like it. So yeah, the kind of combination between me thinking it can do it and me needing to have sports in my life kind of led me to playing football.

The search led Oyelola to players like Efe Obada, Jordan Mailata and Jakob Johnson – players born outside the United States who rose to the ranks of the NFL.

“I had watched like the Super Bowl and people said I should play football. You know, I’m from London so I never really took it seriously. And I looked for international players from the NFL on the same day as well. I saw there were guys who did it from Europe. If they can do it, I can do it, you know.

“I still think I would have tried if I was first. But just knowing there’s a definite path – if you’re good enough – certainly played a huge role.

Coming to terms with an entirely new sport was a strange concept.

“My athleticism stood out, but it was very frustrating. I didn’t know what I was doing! I’ve never been the guy who doesn’t know what he’s doing when I play sports, no matter what. sport. It was hard mentally.

Oyelola, pictured talking to students, studied law at the University of Nottingham before the NFL move

Oyelola, pictured talking to students, studied law at the University of Nottingham before the NFL move

“I often wanted to quit, but I kept going. But I loved it when I first tried it. And that’s why I kept going. And I honestly believed that I could achieve the most high level if I continued to work.

Playing as an outside linebacker, Oyelola rose through his three years in college and turned heads in an all-star game.

“Outside of North America, the best league to go to is the German Football League. My name got a bit of a buzz in Europe because there was an All-Star Game where I was the MVP.

“A few European teams contacted me and offered me contracts. I was supposed to fly to Germany in April 2020, but the Covid arrived.

“It probably worked out for the best. I was studying for my finals and got a call from the international development manager for NFL International. They told me they liked my highlights, they liked my speed and my physique, and they wanted me to work out in person.

“I did that a couple of times with Aden Durde, who is the Dallas Cowboys defensive line coach. They killed me but it was good!

“They thought I had shown enough, but it didn’t work for me – I tore my hamstrings and didn’t get assigned to an NFL team.

“So I signed for a CFL team, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. We won the Gray Cup and had a great year. I was in a large organization. The experience of being a pro was amazing. It reaffirmed to me that this is the life I want.

Injury halted Oyelola's chances against the Dallas Cowboys, but he now has his chance with the Jaguars

Injury halted Oyelola’s chances against the Dallas Cowboys, but he now has his chance with the Jaguars

“And I was invited back into the program by the NFL and this time I was successful.”

In 2017, the NFL launched the International Pathway program. It allocates four players to teams in a rotating division each season, allowing them an additional spot on the practice squad with the ability to advance to the 53-man roster.

In May, Oyelola found out he was heading to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

“I got a call from Doug Pederson, who introduced me to the team, and things went really fast from there.

“It took a few days to sink in, but as soon as I put the helmet on and was running with the guys, you know the time had come, I didn’t really have impostor syndrome. They made me feel really comfortable.

“I love the coaching staff. I love the players, I had a great time at OTAs with my fellow rookies and I can’t wait to get to training camp.

He also learns a new position.

“In the CFL I was an inside linebacker, but Canada is mostly a pride passing league. Compared to the NFL, it’s maybe 80% passing, so linebackers are basically defensive backs. CFL linebackers are generally projected safeties in the NFL.

“I really like Budda Baker who plays for the Cardinals. Jamal Adams is a safe which is a position I see myself being able to play. Rayshawn Jenkins is also very good. So I tried to learn from that as much as possible for him.

And as he begins his new life, does his mind return to his old football team?

‘I’m not going to lie, I don’t follow them as much as I should. I’m a Chelsea fan at heart, but I’m a Fulham fan now, for obvious reasons!’