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Kenneth Odumegwu's year in Green Bay was 'nothing short of amazing'

Nigeran-born linebacker looks forward to second season with Packers

Kenneth Odumegwu
Kenneth Odumegwu

GREEN BAY – There were countless times this season Rashan Gary would sit back during practice and watch Kenneth Odumegwu in pure amazement.

While helping Gary and his fellow Packers teammates prepare for their next opponent, the 6-foot-6, 259-pound linebacker was also learning the game on the fly as the first prospect to be allocated to Green Bay via the NFL International Pathway Program.

A native of Anambra State in southeast Nigeria, Odumegwu spent the 2023 season as an international exemption on the Packers' practice squad. He earned the opportunity after a series of tryouts and combines, beginning with former NFL player Osi Umenyiora's NFL Africa Touchdown Camp in Accra, Ghana.

Once the top-rated recruit in all of college football, Gary is one of numerous Packers players who took Odumegwu under his wing this season. During the tough moments, the fifth-year veteran also was there to remind Odumegwu how incredible it is to see everything he's doing.

"It's crazy, man," Gary said. "I'm telling him, and he doesn't understand. For you to leave your home and jump into the highest level – I had to go to middle school, high school, college, (and) here. You jump right into it. You're learning at the highest level."

That work will continue in 2024 after the Packers signed Odumegwu to a futures contract at the end of his first season in Green Bay.

A former soccer player, Odumegwu was introduced to American football through Educational Basketball, a program founded in 2015 in Lagos, Nigeria, that's touted as Africa's first premier select player development program.

That platform, coupled with a massive growth spurt, helped open the door for Odumegwu to Umenyiora's camp and eventually the NFL International Combine. He trained for three months in Florida before being sent to Green Bay last May.

For Odumegwu, he couldn't have asked for a better situation. With a humble, hard-working approach, he quickly became a popular addition to the Packers' locker room.

"It's been nothing short of amazing, to be honest," Odumegwu said. "It's more than I expected it to be. I've really come a long way, integrating with the team. Getting to know my teammates more, them having trust in me. Learning football, living in Green Bay, it's been a great experience."

Another thing that's made Odumegwu popular with his teammates is his insatiable hunger for knowledge. Whether it's staying after practice with position coach Jason Rebrovich or pulling aside ninth-year veteran Preston Smith to ask a question, the 23-year-old linebacker is always looking to improve.

While earning the respect of his peers, Odumegwu also has made immeasurable progress since his 14-snap appearance in the Packers' preseason opener against Cincinnati last August, which marked the first game of organized football he'd ever play.

"His get-off got 10 times faster," Gary said. "I don't want to tell his moves, but he's got two special moves that if he keeps working, he could tear some of our tackles up coming back in camp. I'm loving his progression. I love his effort. He loves being around the guys. He really doesn't take it for granted."

The international inroads to the NFL are here to stay after the league announced in September plans to expand the allocation of IPP players to all 32 teams. Like Odumegwu this year, those international players will count neither toward the team's 90-man offseason roster nor the 16-man practice squad.

More motivated than ever, Odumegwu is excited to take another step in his development after experiencing NFL life. He plans to take a little time off, including a trip home to Africa, but otherwise will be training for Year 2 in Florida and Georgia.

Looking back on the past nine months, Odumegwu says the opportunity in Green Bay was everything he dreamed it to be. With how much the Packers have invested into his personal and professional development, Odumegwu hopes to return the favor.

"I'm very grateful for this opportunity, for real. I say that every day," Odumegwu said. "To have these big names wrap their arms around you, it's a motivating feeling. I want to have that for long, so I have to keep working.

"I want to show them the investment they made in me is paying off."

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