The next installment of my “Welcome Aboard” series is an interesting story about another one of the Buccaneers rookies that most of you probably haven’t even heard of yet. Eric Nzeocha has had a long journey on his way to Tampa Bay and he’s got a long ways to go, but he’s been given an amazing opportunity and it’s up to him to make the best of it.
Nzeocha (pronounced NUH-ZAH-CHUH) was born and raised in Germany and began playing football for the Franklin Knights Youth Team, a club in Neusitz, Germany. He was selected to play for the junior national team by the Bavarian Football Association before making the commitment to the University of Wyoming where his brother Mark was a linebacker from 2011-14 before being drafted by the Dallas Cowboys.
He was redshirted in 2012 and as a freshman in 2013 was listed as a wide receiver on special teams where he had 52 tackles in 11 games. He was moved to tight end for his sophomore season where he had 8 catches for 65 yards while adding 26 tackles on special teams. He started his junior year back at tight end but was moved to middle linebacker playing in 11 games and starting five of them while totaling 35 tackles. In his senior year, he was second on the depth chart at middle linebacker but was a valuable special teams player.
At 6’3″/225lbs, Nzeocha was not invited to the 2017 NFL Combine but he performed well at Wyoming’s pro day with a 4.76 forty yard, a 37.5″ vertical jump, a 10’7″ broad jump and 22 reps on the 225lb bench press. He entered the 2017 NFL Draft ranked 76th out of 170 draft-eligible inside linebackers and was not selected in any of the seven rounds.
Going undrafted turned out to be a blessing in disguise when he was selected as one of four players to participate in the NFL’s new International Players Pathway program, which allows teams to carry an additional foreign-born player on their practice squads. Normally, an NFL practice squad consist of only 10 players. According to the statement released by the league, the four players have been training here in Florida with former New York Giant Osi Umenyiora and head of NFLUK football development Aden Durde. The NFC South was chosen at random and each of the players was assigned to a team in that division as their 11th practice squad player. The only catch is that the players are not eligible for the 53-man roster this season. The other three players are tight end Alex Gray (a former rugby player from England) in Atlanta, defensive end Efe Obada (from the Netherlands) in Carolina and defensive end Alex Jenkins (from the UK) in New Orleans.
Umenyiora says that “This is going to change people’s lives! They have a great opportunity here. This program will inspire people around the world who never thought they could make it to the NFL and now see they have a viable pathway.” His words are evident in Nzeocha’s reaction to hearing the news. “It’s overwhelming, one of the greatest moments of my life,” he says. “It’s been a dream of mine since I started playing football at age 14 and I’m looking forward to it so much. It’s unreal!”
Nzeocha has a unique opportunity here to basically have a redshirt season as an NFL rookie where he can learn the ins and outs of being a professional football player. He has the added benefit of watching and learning from one of the best linebacking duos in the league in Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David as well as one of the hardest working defensive players in the NFL in Gerald McCoy. Hopefully, he can take advantage of this once in a lifetime chance and end up being a Buccaneer for years to come. Until then, as always…GO BUCS!!!