The number of British-born players in the NFL will swell again when this week’s draft begins in Philadelphia on Thursday.
Safety Obi Melifonwu is expected to be an early-round pick while offensive lineman Jermaine Eluemunor, a fellow Londoner, should be selected soon after.
We spoke to both ahead of the event which begins on Thursday.
What are their British backgrounds?
Melifonwu was born in Islington’s Whittington Hospital in 1994. The son of Nigerian parents, his full name is Henry William Obiajulu Melifonwu and he was three when his family relocated to Massachusetts, although he left having already acquired a taste for British cuisine.
“Weetabix is probably my favourite cereal, but I can’t find it anywhere here,” he said. “Then there’s tea, porridge, the biscuits, fish and chips, and the little granulated sugar cubes.”
Eluemunor grew up nearby in Camden and went to Haverstock School, whose alumni includes the Miliband brothers, Joe Cole and actor Steve McFadden.
“They would have us playing cricket,” Eluemunor recalls of his school days. “I do not like that sport!”
A keen rugby prop who was already 5ft 10ins and 270 pounds by the age of 10, Eluemunor moved to New Jersey at 14 along with his father to pursue his American football dream.
When did they take up the sport?
The seeds for Melifonwu had been planted back in London when he was watching rugby on television. By the age of eight he had decided he wanted to play American football, but mum Tina was unsure.
“I brought her the sign-up sheet and she didn’t want to sign it because she thought it was a dangerous sport, too violent; she thought I would get hurt,” he explained.
“The next year, I actually ended up getting two sign-up sheets. She ended up throwing the first one away saying it was too dangerous. Then I brought her the second one and she knew I was serious.”
Eluemunor caught the bug when channel hopping in 2007 and coming across the first ever NFL International Series game at Wembley between the Miami Dolphins and New York Giants.
He took part in flag-football sessions with the London Blitz at Finsbury Park before moving Stateside with his dad, leaving his mum and her three other children behind.
They initially came back to London in Eluemunor’s sophomore term and neither of his parents wanted the pair to return to America, but their son managed to convince them that it was where his future lay.
“I told them I knew if I came here I was going to be successful – you just need to give me the opportunity,” Eluemunor said. “Hopefully soon I will make good on my promise to them.”
Where will they get drafted?
2007: Watched the first ever NFL game in 🇬🇧 on his TV in London.
2017: #NFLDraft prospect.
— NFL UK (@NFLUK) April 26, 2017
There has never been a British-born prospect drafted in the first round of an NFL draft, but Melifonwu could make history. The four-year starter at the University of Connecticut produced an awesome performance at the combine in March, running faster and jumping further and higher than any other safety there.
He should therefore be selected higher than Menelik Watson, the 42nd overall pick in 2013 and currently the highest British-born player ever drafted.
“I would love to go first round, that’s ideal, but that’s not up to me,” he said. “Any team that takes me I’ll be happy to join the club.”
Eluemunor has just one year of experience as a college starter, but it did come with a major school in Texas A&M, where he was a team-mate of likely first overall pick Myles Garrett.
Still considered a developmental prospect given his late start in the sport, his sheer size will tempt teams when picking in the third, fourth and fifth rounds.
“I want to show kids playing football in London that it’s not a bad thing to dream,” he said.
And what exactly is the NFL draft?
— NFL UK (@NFLUK) April 26, 2017
It’s the most common source of player recruitment in American football, where the best college players are drafted into the 32 NFL teams over seven rounds.
The team with the worst record the previous year gets to choose first, with the idea being this keeps the league competitive. That also means the Super Bowl winners from the previous season go last.
This year, the Cleveland Browns will choose first.