Amobi Okoye Entered the NFL at Age 19, Then ‘Pretty Much Died’
Amobi Okoye, of all people, holds an NFL record that may never be broken.
A star defensive end at Louisville, Okoye joined the Houston Texans — in need of another young defensive player they could build around in the pre-J.J. Watt era — in 2007. At the time, Okoye was still a few months shy of turning 20 and became the youngest drafted player in NFL history.
A few years later, that record or his NFL stint was the last thing on Okoye’s mind. The former Houston Texans defender nearly died from a mysterious illness and had to learn to function again.
Amobi Okoye got an extremely early start on football
Born in Anambra State, Nigeria, Amobi Okoye moved to Alabama when he was only 12 years old. Okoye tested well enough that he moved to the 9th grade a few weeks later.
That allowed Okoye, who knew nothing about the NFL or American football, to start playing at a younger age.
After learning from Madden games, Okoye became a first-team All-State two-way lineman and signed with Louisville out of high school. Playing defensive end, Okoye totaled two sacks in his first two seasons.
Okoye had four tackles for loss as a junior in 2005, but only notched half a sack in 11 games. Then came the breakout year in 2006, when Okoye recorded eight sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss on a Louisville team that went 12-1.
Okoye played six NFL seasons
Although Amobi Okoye only had one stellar college season, the Houston Texans saw his potential and his age.
The Texans used the 10th overall pick on Okoye in the 2007 NFL draft, the first day of which was April 28. Okoye was still 43 days away from turning 20 years old.
Okoye started 14 games as a 20-year-old rookie and provided an immediate impact. Starting at defensive tackle, Okoye recorded 5.5 sacks and forced a fumble.
Unfortunately for Okoye and the Texans, that wasn’t a sign of things to come. He only had 2.5 sacks the next two years despite starting in 28 of a possible 32 games.
Okoye had three sacks in 2010, but that wasn’t enough to keep him in Houston. With a young defensive core led by Brian Cushing, rookie J.J. Watt, and Mario Williams, Houston deemed Okoye expendable.
Still only 24, Okoye signed with the Chicago Bears and had four sacks off the bench in 2011. He added 12 tackles and a sack in 2012.
Okoye nearly died from brain inflammation in 2013
Amobi Okoye sat out the 2013 season for what he called an “undisclosed medical issue.” Only later did people find out just how serious the issue was.
Okoye spent part of 2013 in a medically induced coma after he’d been diagnosed with anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis. The coma helped stabilize the recurring seizures he suffered.
In a 2017 feature he did with ESPN, Okoye admitted he “pretty much died.” he also argued with the nurse about the date; Okoye woke up on August 7 and told the nurse it was March 15, the day he went under.
Okoye spent the next few months working on his physical and mental skills.
“You go from being a super-athlete to learning everything from step one again,” Okoye said. “I had to learn all of that like ABCs, 123s, everything.”
Where is Amobi Okoye now?
A year after he nearly died, Amobi Okoye signed with the Dallas Cowboys. He spent the 2014 season working out with the team but didn’t get into a game.
Dallas released him in April 2015. Okoye briefly played for the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football league in 2016.
Okoye hasn’t played professional football since. He now devotes his time to the Amobi Okoye Foundation, a Texas-based charity he started when he joined the NFL.
The charity’s mission is to “tackle hunger” and provide scholarships to inner-city youths, according to Charity Navigator.