Olympic discus finalist Lawrence Okoye has never played football, but after signing with the San Francisco 49ers, he said he thinks that through hard work he can make an impact in the NFL.
The 49ers signed Okoye, 21, as an undrafted free agent and plan to train him to become a defensive lineman. The 6-foot-6, 304-pound British athlete wowed scouts at the super regional combine at Cowboys Stadium in April, running the 40-yard dash in 4.78 seconds and posting impressive results in the vertical jump (35 inches) and broad jump (10-foot-5).
He holds the British record in discus (68.24 meters) and qualified for the finals in the event at the 2012 London Olympic Games but finished last.
He told the San Jose Mercury News this week that he was "terrible" when he first began throwing the discus at age 18, but his success there gives him confidence that he can work hard enough to have success in professional football. Okoye also played rugby as a teenager.
"I had to work really hard to become good at it. It's going to be the same path in this sport," he told the newspaper. "When I start out, I'm not going to be as good as everybody else. I'm going to look out of place, that's for sure. But with some work and with time and effort, I know I can catch up and hopefully become a dominant player in the league."
"An Adonis, a great physical specimen of a man. ... Our creator created a beautiful man," Harbaugh said of Okoye on Saturday, according to the Sacramento Bee.
Okoye said that he put on a helmet and pads for the first time when he visited the Saints.
"It was quite interesting. They're not as heavy as I thought," he told the San Francisco Chronicle in a telephone interview Monday.
He told the newspaper that he isn't planning on putting "any limits on myself."
"Nobody would have predicted when I was 18 that I would be the British record holder and an Olympic finalist. I'm not going to sit here and put limits on myself, but I'm also not going to say that I'm going to kick [49ers defensive tackles] Justin Smith or Ray McDonald out of their positions and I'm going to get 20 sacks next year. Of course not," he told the newspaper. "For me, when I get the 49ers it's all about development. I'm going to develop every day."
With the 49ers he'll work with defensive line coach Jim Tomsula, who has experience teaching the game to football novices when he was a coach in NFL Europe.
He said he takes inspiration from 2013 draftees Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah (No. 5 overall by the Detroit Lions) and Margus Hunt (No. 53 overall by the Cincinnati Bengals), who both didn't pick up football until their freshman years in college.
"These are examples of guys who are physical specimens who have put their mind to it and now teams are seeing their potential," Okoye told the Chronicle. "If they can do it, I see no reason why I can't do the same thing."