Oftentimes, GM Steve Keim mentions how the Cardinals will leave “no stone unturned” when seeking potential help for the Cardinals’ roster.
That’s the thought process behind Tuesday’s signing of Haggai Chisom Ndubuisi, an offensive lineman from Nigeria who was working with the UpRise Academy in Africa, in a program created in part by former New York Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora.
For Ndubuisi, it’s much more than that.
“The dream has been that at least one of us get signed because it’s going to give hope to where I come from,” Ndubuisi, 21, said after signing his contract. “Because it looks impossible coming from my country, Nigeria, where American football is not like a sport (people know).
“When we were training, people looked at us like we were wasting our time. We should be doing something to put food on your table. That’s how it was looked at. We just kept pushing and hoping that one day, it was going to happen.”
The 6-foot-6, 298-pound Ndubuisi had been invited in October to an NFL international combine in London when teams first got to scout him. The Cardinals already have a player from the International Player Program on the roster in tight end Bernhard Seikovits, and have a roster exemption for the Austrian. In this case, the Cardinals are signing Ndubuisi not through the IPP but as a regular member of their 90-man offseason roster.
Ndubuisi was one of three potential African linemen that traveled to Arizona to work with former NFL center LeCharles Bentley, having spent the last 12 weeks at Bentley’s Arizona headquarters. Now he will stay in Arizona and take part in the team’s offseason program, which officially started Tuesday.
Teams are looking for potential where they can find it. In 2018, the Eagles took Jordan Mailata, an Australian rugby player who too had no football experience and already is one of the top tackles in the NFL, recently earning a nice contract extension from Philadelphia.
But Ndubuisi was thrilled when the New York Giants recently signed fellow Nigerian Roy Mbaeteka, who is 6-9 and like Ndubuisi has no formal football experience.
“I realized there are so many incredible athletes over there – I’m talking a hundred times better than I was as an athlete,” Umenyiora told Giants.com when Mbaeteka signed. “And they have no chance of bettering their lives, no chance to actually do something constructive with their lives because of the situation over there.
“In America and in the West, you have opportunities for these guys to do something with all the incredible talent that they have. I recognized that and I decided I was going to start a program to help get these guys opportunities in America.”
Like many kids in Nigeria, Ndubuisi began playing soccer. His height got him into basketball, when he found himself in Lagos at a all-star game run by former NBA player Ejike Ugboajai. Ugboajai suggested Ndubuisi try to play American football.
His background is far from organized. He practiced with other Nigerians trying to play the sport, but there was no coach. Training tips and how to play came from YouTube videos.
But Ndubuisi became convinced he had found the right sport.
“This is more me,” he said with a smile. “The aggressiveness and the toughness, I feel that’s what I was meant for.”
Ndubuisi is a project. His time with Bentley helps, even if he’s likely got work to do to even reach raw. But Ndubuisi will do that work, knowing what it took to get here — when he was first told the Cardinals wanted to sign him, his response was, “For real?” — and what his accomplishments mean in Nigeria.
“It means life,” Ndubuisi said. “It means a dream come true. It means hope, from where I am coming from.”