Thirteen athletes from nine countries have been selected to compete for a spot in the 2022 International Player Pathway program, the NFL announced today.
The group includes three players from the United Kingdom: defensive end Adedayo Odeleye and linebacker Ayo Oyelola, who were both in the program's training camp last year, and offensive lineman Bamidele Olaseni, who has been playing at the University of Utah.
Instituted in 2017, the program aims to provide elite international athletes the opportunity to compete at the NFL level, improve their skills, and ultimately earn a spot on an NFL roster. This season, two players who entered the NFL through the IPP program, Jakob Johnson of the New England Patriots and Jordan Mailata of the Philadelphia Eagles, recorded their 1,000th career snap. They join Efe Obada of the Buffalo Bills in IPP players to reach this milestone in their NFL career.
Given the program's success to date, the NFL widened its search for international talent, hosting Combines in England and Mexico this past October with 56 players from 16 countries participating. The league has identified top athletes from nine countries that will compete for a place in the program.
Since being in last year's training camps, Odeleye, who attended Loughborough University, has been playing for the Berlin Thunder in the European League of Football, with Oyelola, who attended the University of Nottingham, signing for the Canadian Football League''s Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Olaseni, who played for the London Blitz at under-19 level, was named as a second-team All-Pac 12 selection after starting 10 games at left tackle for the Utes during the past NCAA season.
Players will begin training in the United States next month and will have the opportunity to showcase their talents to NFL club scouts in March in hopes of being signed as a free agent or being selected for allocation to a practice squad for next season through the International Player Pathway program.
One of the NFL's eight divisions, to be chosen at random, will receive the international players selected for the 2022 program should they not be signed to free agent contracts. At the conclusion of training camp, each player will be eligible for an international player practice squad exemption with his assigned team. This grants the assigned team an extra practice squad member. Under certain parameters, players can also be elevated to the active roster during the regular season.
"The International Player Pathway program is an important part of our ongoing efforts to help ensure the best athletes in the world are playing in the NFL – regardless of their country of origin," said Damani Leech, NFL Chief Operating Officer of International. "We are excited to have players from around the world competing for a spot in the 2022 program."
**Notable International Player Pathway program participants currently on NFL rosters:
Jakob Johnson, Fullback (Germany), New England Patriots**
Johnson began his football career during his youth in his hometown of Stuttgart, Germany, playing for the Stuttgart Scorpions of the German Football League before moving to Jacksonville, Florida. He played one season of high school football in the United States and was recruited to continue his career at the University of Tennessee. Johnson returned to the Scorpions in 2018. He was then assigned to the New England Patriots through the International Player Pathway program in 2019. In the case of Johnson, the Patriots elected to forgo the international player practice squad exemption and signed him as a regular member of their practice squad, which gave them the option of promoting him. He was signed to the Patriots' active roster on September 21, 2019. Johnson appeared in four regular season games in 2019 with three starts and made his first career reception for five yards in Week 5. He remained with New England for the 2020 season and played all 16 games with 11 starts at fullback and scored his first career touchdown in Week 2. The touchdown catch was the first regular season touchdown scored by an International Pathway program participant. Johnson was re-signed by the Patriots for the 2021 season and played in all 17 games with six starts. He remains a key part of New England's run-game, recording over 1,000 career snaps.
Jordan Mailata, Tackle (Australia), Philadelphia Eagles
In 2017, Mailata participated in the International Player Pathway program and trained at IMG Academy. The Samoan-born Australian former professional rugby league player for the South Sydney Rabbitohs was then drafted in the seventh round of the 2018 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles (thereby making him ineligible for the International Player Pathway program), becoming the youngest player on the Eagles' roster. After spending the 2018 and 2019 season on injured reserve and the practice squad, Mailata enjoyed a breakout 2020 campaign with starts at both left and right tackle. He paved the way for an offense that ranked third in rushing average (5.0 yards per rush) and ninth in rushing yards per game (126.7). Following the 2020 season, Mailata was named a starting left tackle and signed a four-year contract extension to remain with the Eagles. In 2021, Mailata started all 14 games he played in and eclipsed 1,000 career snaps.
Efe Obada, Defensive End (UK), Buffalo Bills
Obada was raised in London after arriving from the Netherlands at age 10. He signed as a free agent for the Dallas Cowboys in 2015 after playing only five games of amateur football with the London Warriors. After a preseason and practice squad stint with the Cowboys, Obada spent time with the Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons before joining the Carolina Panthers practice squad as part of the 2017 International Player Pathway program. In 2018, Obada become the first player from the NFL International Pathway program to make a 53-man roster and also played in his first regular season game (Week 3, 2018), earning NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors for his one-sack, one-interception performance against the Cincinnati Bengals. After recording 50 tackles, eight tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, three passes defensed, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble in 42 games (2017-2020) with the Panthers, Obada joined the Bills as a free agent for the 2021 season. In 2021, Obada played in 10 games with one start, recording 12 tackles, 3.5 sacks, three tackles for loss and one pass defensed.
Sammis Reyes, Tight End (Chile), Washington Football Team
Reyes grew up in Santiago, Chile where he was a multi-sport athlete. He moved to the United States at age 13 to attend high school. He attended Hawaii for one semester before transferring to Palm Beach State Junior College for basketball. Following those stints, Reyes joined the men's basketball program at Tulane (2016-17) and played for the Chilean national basketball team (2017). After a successful basketball career, Reyes competed for an NFL roster spot in 2020 through the NFL's International Player Pathway program. Having never played football, Reyes secured a spot on Washington's 2021 roster, becoming the first Chilean-born player in the NFL. He appeared in his first regular season game in Week 5 against New Orleans and earned his first start in Week 11 against Carolina.