Retired British discus thrower and former American footballer comments on 20-year-old’s planned switch
Former British international thrower Robert Weir, whose own athletics career was punctuated by a spell in American football, said discus prospect Lawrence Okoye had the right assets to potentially be a huge success in the NFL.
Okoye, the British record-holder and world No.5 last year, declared last weekend his intention to pursue trials with NFL teams and give up athletics for the time being.
Many track and field athletes have failed to make the switch successfully, but Weir was one of the few that did. He won the 1982 Commonwealth title in the hammer and later had six years playing in the Canadian Football League before coming back to win the 1998 Commonwealth discus gold.
Weir, who won 10 UK titles and had a best of 65.08m in the discus, said the 6ft 6in, 21-stone former rugby player could be “fantastic” in the United States’ No.1 sport if the right niche on the field was found for him.
“He has all the tools to be successful in that arena. If someone gives him the right chances and will work and develop him, he can set his own limits,” Weir told AW from the University of Hawaii where he is associate coach for the women’s team.
However, 20-year-old Okoye has also been earmarked by fellow athletes and experts as a potential world No.1 in the discus. With only a couple of years in the sport behind him, he was picked out by the current world record-holder, Jurgen Schult, according to his coach, John Hillier, as the one who would break his 27-year-old mark of 74.08m.
It is because of that potential that Okoye’s desire to try to move into a different sport has shocked so many. However, some have suggested that he could earn far more as a relatively unknown, average American football player than if he became Olympic discus champion.
Weir recognised that, saying: “On the plus side, there’s a lot of money involved if he achieves what he thinks he can achieve.
But he warned of the difficulty in breaking through: “On the other side of the coin, experience in football is a huge factor and a lot of the guys he’s going up against will have spent 10 years or more doing it.”
Asked what advice he would offer to Okoye, Weir – a former UKA lead coach for heavy throws – said: “Keep your options open. Speak to people who’ve done it, who have been successful or who have failed.”
British sprinter Dwain Chambers was one of the latter. He tried American football during his doping ban between 2004 and 2006 and he told the Daily Express this week: “There are a number of American track athletes who have made the switch to the NFL, but unless you have been playing the sport from an early age you are at a disadvantage.
“Learning the NFL system is the equivalent to learning the game of chess from scratch. It’s a very technical game with many plays and formations that have to be learnt. I had to learn a number of the plays during pre-season.”
MORE reaction to Lawrence Okoye’s plans in this week’s print issue of Athletics Weekly, including comments from his “disappointed” coach, John Hillier.