Okoye wants to be known for NFL chops


LONDON – Lawrence Okoye was well aware why he was in front of the cameras Wednesday as the San Francisco 49ers started their practice week here in preparation for their game Sunday against Jacksonville at Wembley Stadium.

Okoye is from London and was a member of the 2012 British Olympic teams as a discus thrower. He is trying to transition to football, but his journey has been delayed by a preseason knee injury. The ultra-athletic Okoye is on the injured reserve and will not be eligible to practice until next summer.

Still, the home-grown product was popular with local media members as he held the longest press conference of any 49ers player.

Okoye's message was clear -- he wants to become a story not because of where he is from but because of what he can do on the field.

Because he can't practice, Okoye's job has been learning the game. He studies every aspect of the game, and his coaches have noticed.

"He's a football nerd right now," said defensive line coach Jim Tomsula, whom Okoye credited for being the reason why he signed with the 49ers. "It's all football. He talks it. He eats it. He sleeps it."

Okoye said he is not thinking about the 2016 Olympics. His only focus now is the NFL.

He said he studies teammate Justin Smith closely, and he yearns to someday have the same level of respect Smith commands from teammates. Okoye knows he's a work-in-progress, but he said he is willing to do what it takes to become an NFL factor. The 49ers are willing to wait.

"Can't say that I can tell you if it's going to eventually work," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. "But, he's on the right track and it's got possibilities still. So, still excited about it."