Huddle Up is a weekly Q&A with a Cardinals player on a topic outside of football. In this week's installment, practice squad defensive end Lawrence Okoye talks about his long list of accomplishments despite recently turning only 24.
Question: So after reading up on you, you're a former star rugby player, an Olympic discus thrower and now in the NFL. Was there something growing up that you weren't good at athletically?
Answer: Swimming. I couldn't swim. Well, I can swim, but I can't tread water or anything like that. I could go, but if you put me in the ocean I don't think I could survive for more than 20 minutes. I'd be eaten by a shark. That's one sport I wasn't good at it.
Q: Did that surprise you, considering how good you were at everything else?
A:I guess, but not really. Swimming is one of those sports where I feel like guys my size aren't really suited for.
Q: That's true. So looking back at the start of everything, were you mainly into rugby at first?
A: In the very beginning I was a soccer player. When I went to high school they introduced me to rugby and I became really good at that. When I left high school, that's when I started training for the discus. I was 18, and obviously it took off from there. At the age of 20, that's when I decided to start playing football.
Q: Why did you make the switch from rugby to discus?
A: I used to do discus just for fun in school, like in the summer when we had little track meets. I used to go win national championships for my age groups. One of my friends who was a discus thrower, he told me, 'You know, if you were actually coached you'd be really, really good.' I was like, 'Oh, really?' So I went to work with this coach, and after one practice I jumped so much. The coach told me I could make the Olympic team in two years if I trained for it full-time. So I mulled it over and when I left school I decided to do that.
Q: Did you think that was far-fetched at all when he said that? Obviously the Olympics are a pretty big deal.
A: I feel like I'm a bit naïve in that sense, where I feel like I can do anything. I actually believed it.
Q: What was it like experiencing the Olympics?
A: The Olympics for me were great and not so great. Obviously it's great representing your country and your hometown, and I had an awesome qualifying round where I came through second, I think, in my group. But in the final, I didn't do as well as I could have done and ended up coming in 12th. I kind of have a bittersweet feeling toward it. I don't look back as fondly as I'd like to because of that, but at the same time, obviously I achieved a lot. I can't take that for granted.
Q: A lot of people would say, 'I'm going to try again in four years.' Why were you different? Why switch to football?
A: I really felt like this was the game I was supposed to play. I wasn't born in the right country (England) and I didn't go to college, but I felt like with the tools, the physical capabilities I had, that this was the sport I was supposed to play. And I came over and smashed the Combine, but there's a difference between going on the field and running 40 yards and going on the field and fighting against somebody like (Pro Bowl guard) Mike Iupati every day.
Q: You talked about that naïve self-confidence in making the Olympics. It's not easy to make the NFL without ever playing before. Was it the same thing in your mind, that I believe I can do this?
A: I think it was even more naïveté in this sport. When I first started, I was really horrible and it took me awhile to improve. Obviously I stuck with it and had some patience from coaches who helped me improve. Fortunately I did so year over year over year. Now I feel like I'm at a point where I feel confident in my abilities.
(At this point, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald walks over and eavesdrops on the interview).
Okoye: Hey, no one's talking to you, bruh. Let me get my three minutes.
Fitzgerald: What have you asked him so far?
Huddle Up: About rugby, the Olympics, swimming. He's not a very good swimmer.
Fitzgerald: What about Oxford? Did you know about that? (Okoye was accepted to Oxford University Law School)
Q: Well, I've got to ask about Oxford, obviously. That's something you can still return to?
A: Yeah. So basically when I left school in 2010, I applied and they accepted me. They allowed me to train and come after the Olympics in 2012. After 2012 I went to play football, so I asked them again if they could prolong it for a while, until 2017, just so I could give myself a shot. And they agreed, so that's still there. But right now I'm not worried about anything but the day-to-day basis of playing football.
Q: Are you able to step back and look at all of this? Star rugby player. Olympics. NFL. Maybe going to Oxford.
A: Not really. The way I see it, I'm a practice-squad guy. I look around and see all of these established players. I see Patrick Peterson. I see Larry Fitzgerald. I want to get to that level. I don't see myself as someone who has done anything, achieved anything, a star or anything like that, because no one around here cares about that. Everyone cares about what you do on Sunday, and in that respect, I'm down to earth and looking forward to my opportunity.