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Mile High Morning: DL Haggai Chisom Ndubuisi discusses journey from Nigeria to the Broncos' defensive line


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Broncos defensive lineman Haggai Chisom Ndubuisi recorded two tackles during Denver's preseason opener last week against the Arizona Cardinals, a performance that seems remarkable considering where Ndubuisi was a year earlier: competing in the Cardinals' training camp as an offensive lineman.

Rewind a couple more years, and Ndubuisi's story becomes even more impressive. As an 18-year-old in Nigeria, Ndubuisi watched his first NFL action through YouTube videos and emerged as a top prospect in the NFL's International Player Pathway Program. In a feature on his career and the rise of the IPPP in the Washington Post, Ndubuisi recounted his journey and reflected on football's impact on himself, his family and his home country.

In 2017, the NFL launched the IPPP to give international players opportunities to find spots on NFL teams. According to the article, Ndubuisi is one of six Nigerian players competing for NFL roster spots in training camps this summer, and Ndubuisi said their path to the NFL has inspired interest in football back home.

"Ever since we got signed, the interest [in Nigeria] has increased massively," Ndubuisi told Roman Stubbs of the Washington Post. "People are now taking an interest in the sport of football. It's possible. There is light and there is hope. For me, there is hope back home."

In May, the NFL assigned eight prospects from the IPPP to teams in the AFC West and NFC North. Ndubuisi was allocated to the Broncos through the program, but he switched to the other side of the ball to join Denver's defensive line. At 6-foot-7 and 323 pounds, Ndubuisi has brought size and physicality to the unit, and he's preferred hitting and tackling players over the blocking responsibilities he previously had as an offensive lineman, according to the article.

Ndubuisi was an athlete before embracing football, including playing soccer and basketball growing up, but he's convinced his family that he's found the perfect sport for him.

"They are proud I took that bold step," Ndubuisi said. "They were scared about the hits. But I was determined that this is what I wanted to do."

Broncos President Damani Leech is well-versed in the International Player Pathway Program, serving as the chief operating officer of NFL International before coming to Denver. Leech sees the IPPP as a way to find the best football players and expand NFL opportunities across the globe.

"From a macro standpoint, what's happening in the subcontinent of Africa where you're seeing massive population growth, technology and infrastructure growth, that is all saying that, yeah, you're going to continue to get football players from here," Leech said. "We always started from a basis of there's just a finite number of people walking the planet to have the physical tools to play this game, whether that is size, speed, quick-twitch muscles. And all of those athletes are not kids born in Texas, California and Ohio."

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