College football adds broader swath of international players

FILE - New Zealand's Edward Osei-Nketia, right, and Justin Gatlin of the United States compete during the men's 100 meters heat at the World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar, Sept. 27, 2019. The fastest man in New Zealand is ready to try college football. Eddie Osei-Nketia holds his country's 100-meter record and has some rugby experience. He has signed to play for Hawaii and is among a geographically diverse group of international recruits who will suit up on campuses across the United States. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek, File) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

New Zealand sprinter Eddie Osei-Nketia figured he'd “try something new."

He already holds the 100-meter record in his country. Plus, he's got some rugby experience.

Hello, college football.

“I reckon the boys will hit harder and the tackling technique in American football is going to be way different compared to rugby,” he told The Associated Press. “I’ve just got to be ready for it.”

Osei-Nketia has signed to play for Hawaii and is among a geographically diverse group of international recruits who will suit up soon on campuses across the United States.

Schools are still looking to Europe — Alabama signed offensive lineman Olaus Alinen of Finland and Michigan plucked defensive end Aymeric Koumba directly from France — but the international base has broadened, too.

Senegal's Mamadou Cissokho has committed to Liberty, and recruiter Brandon Collier said the West African country has a lot more to offer.

“In the next 10 to 20 years don't be surprised if the NFL and the colleges are looking more like the NBA,” Collier, founder of PPI Recruits in Germany, said of the potential international impact on American football.

Florida State, Virginia Tech, Oregon State and Colorado — in addition to Alabama and Michigan — are among the Power Five schools with international recruits in this cycle's early signing period.

Collier, an American who played defensive line at Massachusetts, estimated two or three more of his recruits will sign with Power Five schools by the traditional signing date in February and that there will be more than 20 in total across Division I, which he said is up slightly from a year ago. And that doesn't include the annual arrival of Australian punters.

Sweden has both sides of the line covered: 6-foot-8 OT Lucas Simmons is headed to Florida State and defensive lineman Thomas Collins is going to Oregon State. Britain, Germany and Serbia also produced recruits.

Another Swede, Oliver Lundberg Coleman, is the rare European running back to earn a scholarship offer. He was on one of Collier's summer tours of US college camps and impressed coaches from Western Kentucky, where he plans to sign.

“They offered him before they even knew he was from Europe,” Collier said. “If they would have known he was from Sweden right away, maybe they would have had a little more hesitation, but he was the best running back at the camp.”

British linebacker Kofi Taylor-Barrocks, an alumni of the NFL Academy in London, had committed to Jackson State but has followed coach Deion Sanders to Colorado.

NEED FOR SPEED

The 21-year-old Osei-Nketia said he's long admired Miami Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill but hadn't contemplated switching sports until Keiki Misipeka contacted him.

Misipeka was a Pacific region scout with the NFL's International Player Pathway program, which helped turn Aussie rugby player Jordan Mailata into a starter for the Philadelphia Eagles. Misipeka has since become an assistant coach at Hawaii.

“I haven’t played a game of football at all,” the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Osei-Nketia said. “My brother is a big American football fan and he’s also going to help me with catches and the routes.”

Osei-Nketia set a New Zealand record at the world championships in Oregon last summer when he ran a 10.08 in the 100 meters, breaking the record held by his father, Gus.

“I’ve achieved many things in track for New Zealand. After breaking my dad’s record, it’s time for me to try something new,” he said.

He won't be the only international player in Hawaii, which also inked 6-foot-8 British offensive tackle Freddie Pelling, an NFL Academy alum.

FRENCH CONNECTION

Koumba was ready for a change, too. The former rugby player from Bordeaux went to an American football practice nearly five years ago and hasn't looked back.

“I like the speed of the sport — it’s way faster than rugby,” he said. “I like the technical aspect. It’s more finesse. The sport is about being smart, also. In football, you have to have IQ to play the game. I fell in love with the sport pretty quickly — first practice.”

He joined Collier on two summer tours of U.S. camps. On the first one, he received no offers, which “gave me the extra motivation to work.” The 6-foot-6, 250-pounder made a better impression on the second tour. He had six offers after his first camp and Michigan's came a few days later.

The 19-year-old Koumba is the first player from France to sign with Michigan football.

“With his measurements and athletic ability — imagine if you give him some elite coaching, what type of prospect he’ll be,” Collier said. “The rewards outweigh the risks greatly.”

PORTAL PAIN

The transfer portal has made it harder for international students — even domestic ones — to find scholarships.

Chris Adamson, director of Gridiron Imports, argues that playing a year or two of high school or prep football is the best pathway.

“Playing here in the U.S. is more important than ever,” he said. “You give yourself the best opportunity to be evaluated fairly.”

Gridiron had helped Alinen and German offensive lineman Hannes Hammer — who signed with Virginia Tech — find prep schools.

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