Chargers’ CJ Okoye Sacks Rams’ Stetson Bennett in His 1st-Ever Football Game Played

Chargers’ CJ Okoye Sacks Rams’ Stetson Bennett in His 1st-Ever Football Game Played
Erin WalshAugust 13, 2023

INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 12: Quarterback Stetson Bennett #13 of the Los Angeles Rams is sacked by defensive tackle CJ Okoye #67 of the Los Angeles Chargers during the second half of a pre-season NFL game at SoFi Stadium on August 12, 2023 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Los Angeles Chargers defensive lineman CJ Okoye impressed in the first football game he ever played.

Okoye, a Nigerian athlete who was signed by the Chargers as part of the NFL’s International Player Pathway program, recorded a sack of former Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett in Saturday’s 34-17 preseason victory against the Los Angeles Rams, which was the first football game of his life.

NFL @NFL

CJ Okoye had never played in an organized football game until last night.

The Nigerian native attended the @NFLAfrica Camp last year & was signed by the @chargers through the International Player Pathway program.

He got his first sack in his first game EVER. 💙 @Cj_dlion12 pic.twitter.com/SJO5oo8y1U

The feat had his Chargers teammates elated:

OSI @OsiUmenyiora

First football game of his entire life. He gets a sack. You can’t make this stuff up. @chargers Sideline going crazy. Only in the @NFL @Cj_dlion12 @NFLAfrica #IPP pic.twitter.com/0vInPW1pIT

Chargers coach Brandon Staley said of Okoye’s performance, via ProFootballTalk’s Michael David Smith:

“It’s a historic performance. This guy, as you guys know, his story is remarkable. The International Pathway Program, this guy’s never played in a game. For him to go in his first NFL game to have a sack, our guys said if he gets a sack we were going to get a 15-yard [celebration penalty]. You saw that sideline, that’s what the NFL’s about, great stories like that. Game ball for CJ and a memorable moment for our whole team.”

Okoye started playing football in Africa just three years ago and was one of several Nigerian athletes to take part in the NFL London Combine. He was then invited to train in the United States and also participated in the University of South Florida’s Pro Day before the 2023 NFL draft.

Okoye told ESPN’s Leonard Solms in May:

“For people that want to play; for people that have been dreaming… If you have big dreams, you have to dream even bigger. No dream is too big. If you dream it, you can achieve it. My dream is to get into the NFL, but I haven’t stopped yet. I have an even bigger dream of getting that championship ring.

“I want to tell them to keep dreaming, keep working hard, and one day, they’re going to make it here.”

Okoye is one of six Nigerian players to earn allocation to an NFL team this year through the International Player Pathway program, joining Roy Mbaeteka (Chicago Bears), Chukwuebuka Jason Godrick (Kansas City Chiefs), Kenneth Odumegwu (Green Bay Packers), David Ebuka Agoha (Las Vegas Raiders), and Haggai Chisom Ndubuisi (Denver Broncos).

While Okoye remains a long shot to make L.A.’s roster this summer, it’s possible the team will retain him on the practice squad, especially given his determination and performance through training camp thus far.

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