INGLEWOOD, Calif. — They probably heard David Agoha yelling back in Nigeria.
“I was so excited,” Agoha said. “I was screaming so hard, I got lightheaded.”
The Las Vegas Raiders defensive end burst through the line of scrimmage late in Saturday night’s preseason game and sacked Los Angeles Rams quarterback Brett Rypien. It was quite a moment for a player who just learned how to play football two years ago and has an extra spot on the Raiders roster through the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program.
“Coming from Africa, starting (the NFL) this year, getting a sack is such a blessing,” Agoha said. “I can’t even explain it.”
Another week. Another first-timer. Another sack. 💥
David Ebuka Agoha 🇳🇬 announces his arrival 💪🏾
— NFL Africa (@NFLAfrica) August 20, 2023
The 6-foot-5, 245-pound pass rusher is one of six Nigerian players and one of eight players in all to be selected for the program this season. The players will stay with their teams until the end of training camp, and then can either be added to the active roster or added as an extra practice squad member and stay with the team all season.
Agoha first discovered football when he was a kid and saw the movie “The Longest Yard” with Burt Reynolds. He would try soccer, boxing and basketball before football finally found him.
And then Saturday night, his sack and the celebration from his teammates was … just like a movie.
’They loved me so much when I got the sack,” Agoha said, beaming. “The whole sideline came to me and celebrated. The love was just crazy.”
The loudest player was team leader and madman Maxx Crosby.
“To have a guy like Maxx, who plays at that level, makes you want to be at that level,” Agoha said. “It pushes me every day because I see how good he is. That’s how I want to be.”
The sack and celebration was a great way to cap off a productive week for the Raiders, who had two joint practices with the Rams before beating them 34-17 in the preseason game on Saturday.
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“That’s really cool,” coach Josh McDaniels said. “For him, his first sack, and then the response from the team. It says a lot about David and the kind of kid he is. I was really happy to see him do that.”
When asked if people in Nigeria are following his progress, Agoha smiled and said, “They are now.”
“After that sack, they are watching now,” he added. “I have 100 messages already on my Instagram.”
He had watched the highlight of his sack several times already between the end of the game and leaving the locker room for the team bus to the airport.
“I watch and it and I’m like, ‘Damn, is that me?,” Agoha said. “There are no words to explain it.”
He was always a big kid, Agoha said, and people would tell him that he should play football or rugby.
“But there was no football or rugby in Africa,” he said.
So, after soccer and boxing, Agoha tried basketball during COVID-19.
He played for the Invaders of Ado Ekiti in Nigeria’s Premier Basketball League, and then was told he should play football one more time. But this time it was by former New York Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora’s Uprise Academy.
Agoha said it was “love at first sight” with football, and after picking up the basics he was off to an NFL Africa camp in Ghana last year.
He thinks he has made his biggest strides this training camp in stopping the run.
“Because when I first came in, I didn’t really play the run like that,” he said. “They just wanted me to rush. But I have been getting so good at the run game and stuffing blocks.”
He plans to keep working hard at his new job, and one day he might be the second Raiders player to go from the Pathway Program to an active roster, joining German fullback Jakob Johnson.
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“David’s situation is a little different,” Johnson said last month. “He came directly from Nigeria, never played football before. But I had the chance of meeting him in the spring already and speaking to him there a little bit.
“And then now, watching him grow throughout (offseason workouts) and where he’s at now, he’s definitely putting the work in every day and coming to work with the right mindset. When you’re new to football, you just have to keep chopping away at it. And eventually, the dam will break, so he’s on the right track.”
Agoha, 22, now has a sack and he is having the time of his life.
“It’s all I imagined and more,” Agoha said. “The atmosphere and everything is so electric. It’s just crazy.
“I am still in shock.”
(Photo of David Agoha celebrating his sack: Tony Ding / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
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