British discus star Lawrence Okoye would sit in his London living room and watch the 49ers’ Super Bowl run last season on Sky Sports’ NFL-tripleheader telecasts.
“When C.K. (Colin Kaepernick) came to quarterback, the team transformed really, and he just opened up a whole new game,” Okoye said Tuesday by phone from his training base near Atlanta.
A new game is exactly what Okoye will attempt to play — and learn from scratch — after formally signing his 49ers contract Wednesday.
Just what does this NFL neophyte think of the 49ers’ future, if not his own?
“Hopefully they do something similar to what Joe Marino and Jerry Rice did in the ’80s and win a few Super Bowls in the next decade,” Okoye said.
Marino, Montana ... whatever.
He’ll learn about the 1985 Super Bowl as soon as he steps into the 49ers’ trophy-filled lobby next week for their rookie minicamp.
It will be a landmark step in his quest to become football’s next pass-rushing phenom — or, more likely, an initial practice-squad candidate.
This time last year, Okoye was preparing for the Olympics in his hometown of London.
He reached the discus finals of the London Games, only to place last among the 12 throwers. Still stung by that disappointment, Okoye can relate to the 49ers’ sorrow of losing the Super Bowl 34-31 to the Baltimore Ravens.
“It was a couple technical issues. You only get three throws to get it right. If you don’t, you’re out,” Okoye recalled of the Olympic finals. “It was a tough sporting lesson but these things you have to go through to become a top sportsman.”
A teen-age rugby player, Okoye took up discus at 18, mastering it so swiftly he holds Great Britian’s record (68.24 meters).
“When I started that journey, I was truly terrible at throwing the discus,” Okoye recalled. “I had to work really hard to become good at it. It’s going to be the same path in this sport.
“When I start out, I’m not going to be as good as everybody else. I’m going to look out of place, that’s for sure. But with some work and with time and effort, I know I can catch up and hopefully become a dominant player in the league.”
An April 10 visit to the 49ers convinced Okoye to choose them over other suitors. He also made pre-draft visits to the Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints, the later of whom had him try on a helmet and shoulder pads for the first time in his life.
Okoye’s visit also made a lasting impression on coach Jim Harbaugh, who on Saturday compared the Brit’s physique to “an Adonis,” adding: “Our Creator created a beautiful man.”
“If he said it, it’s true,” responded Okoye, who is 6-foot-6 and 305 pounds (or “22 stones, back home.”)
Okoye hails from the south London borough of Croydon, located some 20 minutes from Wembley Stadium, where the 49ers will play Oct. 27 against the host Jacksonville Jaguars.
“It would be a dream come true to play American football in front of my home country and my hometown in London,” Okoye said. “I’m a long, long way away from that. My priority at themoment is to get to camp, train as hard as possible and work with Jim Tomsula.”
Prior to becoming the 49ers’ defensive line coach in 2007, Tomsula coached nine seasons in NFL Europe, starting as the England Monarchs’ line coach in 1998 and exiting as the Rhein Fire’s head coach in 2006.
Not only did Okoye meet (and eat twice) with Tomsula upon his April 10 visit, he also got to know Harbaugh, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, team president Gideon Yu and even the equipment staff (or “kit guys,” as he put it).
Harbaugh referenced Okoye’s quick transition from rugby player to Olympic discus thrower, then stated: “You maybe start to put the pieces together and say, 'Taking on football at this time in his life? I can see this guy doing it.’ So, I’m excited.”
Why is Okoye making the jump, rather than train for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics or enroll in Oxford School of Law, where he has deferred acceptance until 2017? He cited football’s physical nature and the passion it’s created among fans. He said his father, Lawrence Okoye Sr., played defensive end in the 1980s at the University of Nebraska, and that they’re not related to former Kansas City Chiefs running back Christian Okoye.
“Obviously not being from the States, it’s important for me to absorb as much football as possible,” Okoye said. “I’ve never played the game, but I’m trying to make up for lost time.
“I don’t want to look back in 50 years time and say, 'I could have done that. I could have been a star. I could have been a football player.’ If I fail, I fail, but I won’t look back with regrets.”