Auzoyah Alufohai: Path to the NFL DRaft
For most NFL prospects the path to the NFL Draft is a straight line. You fall in love with the game at a young age. High school football leads to college football leads to the NFL Draft which leads to playing in the NFL for the select few. Auzoyah Alufohai isn’t like most NFL prospects. His path to the draft has taken him to countries that some people will never see in their lifetime. When he hears his name called in less than a month, his success will have proven that anyone, from anywhere, can truly achieve their goals.
“It would mean the world to me, a dream come true. To be honest with you, it would show not just me but everyone around me that, if you believe in something, if you work hard at something, dreams really do come true.”
The long and winding road to the NFL Draft
The journey to the NFL Draft began in Texas for Auzoyah Alufohai. His parents, Eire and Fola, had come to America from Nigeria, their destination determined by Fola’s work as an engineer. Working for Shell, he could be moved anywhere, at any time, and sure enough the Alufohai family would return to Nigeria a little over a year after Auzoyah was born.
“We got moved back to Nigeria where I stayed for about nine years. From there he got transferred to Malaysia. I spent about three years there, from age about 9 to like 13.”
In Malaysia, Auzoyah Alufohai found a love for sport. However, at a time when most prospects are starting to find their love for football and dream of the NFL, nothing was farther from Auzoyah’s mind.
“I played basketball in Malaysia. I came here [America] wanting to play basketball. That was the big dream starting out.”
After three years in Malaysia, it was time for the family to move again. This time, it was Qatar calling. After years of moving Auzoyah and his sister around the world, Eire made a decision that would lead Auzoyah Alufohai to the point he is at now.
“My mum decided that she didn’t want us moving around anymore. So, she sent us, my sister and I, to a boarding school in Rome, Georgia called Darlington High School.”
Adversity as Auzoyah Alufohai returns to America
The move to Darlington High School would not only return him to America far from his parents, but it would also provide an experience of adversity. His ability to overcome this adversity, and others to follow, would help define his character as he progressed on the path to the NFL Draft.
“I was placed in the wrong grade, because the systems are different, they put me in the grade ahead. I flunked out of private school, got kicked out. So, I transferred to Alpharetta High School, where I stayed with my Uncle as my legal guardian. I tried to play catch up to get me to be eligible to play sports. Took a bunch of summer classes, took extra classes, working with my teachers to get me extra work in.”
With the extra classroom work, there was less time for working out. As a result, the dream of playing basketball faded as Auzoyah Alufohai gained weight and stopped growing taller. His transformation didn’t go unnoticed around Alpharetta High School, however.
“Coach Dukes, the head coach of the football team, he noticed me in the hallway. He was like “Man! I want you to come play with me whenever you can, whenever you become eligible.”
He wouldn’t become eligible to play any sports until his senior year at Alpharetta. Despite having dreamt of being a professional basketball player, and never having played a single snap of organised football, or any type of football for that matter, Auzoyah was about to discover a new love.
“I knew nothing about football before I stepped on that field! I fitted at the defensive line position, loved it ever since. By then I was done with basketball, I found my new love.”
A stumbling block leads to Kennesaw State
At around 350lbs, Auzoyah Alufohai was physically dominant compared to the other players on the field for Alpharetta High but noticeably against the opposition. He was a part of a Raiders team that went 9-3 in his senior year. Despite only playing football for just one year, college scouts and recruiting personnel noticed him in the same way Coach Dukes had done before. Unfortunately for Auzoyah, the adversity that had hindered his path to high school sports when arriving back in America, was set to provide a stumbling block in his college recruitment.
“I got a bunch of scholarship offers but because of my scores from my first year in Darlington High School, a bunch of the schools pulled their offers. Kennesaw State was the only one to truly stick with me. So, I ended up going with Kennesaw State. My first year there they didn’t have a program, so I felt like it was good for me. I could grow and I wasn’t just thrown into the fire.”
As a start-up football program, Kennesaw State wouldn’t play a game until 2015. That first year at the university would give Auzoyah Alufohai the opportunity to get into football shape whilst continuing to learn the game and grow as a person.
“I came in like 360lbs. Real heavy, real out of shape. The first year was really trying to get me into shape. I dropped about 30lbs my first year. I was working out with my strength coach, working our butts off. He tried to make it as fun as possible, putting in boxing, activities like that.”
Learning, breaking out, getting noticed
He made it onto the field in 2015, contributing 3 tackles and a tackle for loss in limited game time. Auzoyah used that time, alongside playing on the scout team during practices, to learn the game of football, the techniques and intricacies of the game. He took that learning and those experiences into 2016, with 13 tackles and his first sack during 10 games for Kennesaw State.
2017 would be a breakout year for Auzoyah Alufohai.
“My redshirt junior year was where I really took off. I started all the games, had pretty good numbers on the field. We had a really good season, won the Big South Conference. Unfortunately, we lost in the quarter finals of the playoffs, but it was a really solid year for us. That’s when I started getting noticed by the NFL.”
Despite only playing football for four total years, the NFL was beginning to notice Auzoyah Alufohai. He was primed to have a big senior season, when adversity struck again. He would be tested like never before, and his path to the NFL Draft would have to take another route.
More adversity leads Auzoyah Alufohai to West Georgia
“Going into my senior year, I hurt my foot. It was two days before the season. I had to get surgery. It was really tough for me, one of the toughest things I’ve ever been through, beside my Dad passing. Coach Bohannon, my head coach at Kennesaw State, sent out a waiver to the NCAA to get me an extra year, a medical redshirt year. Because I had already taken a redshirt year, I didn’t qualify. I was really bummed about that. Kennesaw State was real huge for me because we started the program, me and my boys. It was extremely hard. Those guys were my brothers, we’d been through hard times together. It was not easy coming into college with no senior group to lead us, no upperclassmen to guide us to do the right things. We built the program from the ground up.”
With no medical redshirt, Auzoyah faced the end of his college football career. However, a loophole in the NCAA regulation would allow another year to play football, another year of experience before attempting to head to the NFL.
“Coach Bohannon figured out that I had one more year of eligibility to play football at the DII level. So, I kind of went school shopping for a little bit. I considered a bunch of schools, Valdosta, Lenoir-Rhyne, West Alabama, West Georgia. I ended up picking West Georgia as I thought it was the best fit for my family. It was closer to home for my family to come watch the games. They also have a great track record of sending people to the NFL. The coaching staff were amazing, the players were amazing when I took my visit. So, I felt it was the best fit for me, all in all. Now, I’m here.”
Individual achievements and an invitation
“Now, I’m here” is simplifying Auzoyah’s achievements during his one year with the West Georgia Wolves. He started 10 games, racking up 31 tackles, 2 sacks, a tackle for loss, a quarterback hit and forcing three fumbles. His efforts were rewarded with a selection to the All-Gulf South Conference First Team.
“I’d been waiting on it” he laughs “At the end of the day, its awesome and it’s a huge honour too, it’s an individual honour and I would rather us win a championship and not have the season that we had. We had a terrible season. We were 6-5 and we were a lot better than that on paper, we had a bunch of talent.”
Although the team accomplishments outstrip the individual honours for Auzoyah Alufohai, one individual honour would signal the opportunity to continue his football journey. Auzoyah’s performances in his final year for Kennesaw State and during his senior year at West Georgia would earn him an invitation to the East West Shrine Bowl.
“Right after practice, I was on my way to get some food and my coach called me and was like “I’ve got something in the office for you.” I kinda knew, I had this feeling. I was full of emotion, ran straight back to the office to pick up my letter. Me and coach had a long talk, like “you have a really good opportunity here” and really just motivated me and gave me all the things that I need.”
NFL Draft stock continues to soar at the Shrine Bowl
The East West Shrine Bowl gave Auzoyah Alufohai the opportunity not only to showcase his talent, but also to show the off-field side of his personality.
“The most fun we had at that time, of course on the field, but getting the chance to spend time with the kids at Shriners Hospital. It was a blast to spend time with them, playing games, meeting new people, having conversations with them. It was a blast. I’m a real family guy, a real joker, but when it’s time for business, it’s time for business.”
The on-field business allowed Auzoyah to continue his upward trend as he heads to the NFL Draft.
“It was great. It was awesome. Facing “bigger” competition. If you watch the film from practice, I got better each day, drastically. Huge improvement each day, from day one to the day I left. It definitely helped me in a huge way, and I’m looking forward to getting into the NFL and getting better each day. The sky isn’t the limit for me. I have so much growth left in me. I’ve only just started learning the game two years ago. I’m nowhere close to where I’m supposed to be. I know I’m athletic enough to be a dominant player in the NFL.”
Auzoyah Alufohai inspired by a pair of Bears
His draft stock continues to rise after a strong showing at the West Georgia Pro Day. There were several NFL scouts in attendance, and they continue to be impressed with what they see from Auzoyah Alufohai. Although his official visits have been limited due to restrictions around the coronavirus, he was able to get a visit in with the Chicago Bears. He also lists the Houston Texans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Seattle Seahawks, and New Orleans Saints as teams that have shown interest.
The Bears would seem to be a perfect landing spot given the inspiration that Auzoyah found once he decided that football would be the sport for him.
“I look at Akiem Hicks. He’s probably my favourite player to watch on film. Honestly, as a man in general, from what I see, he’s a great example to young guys like myself. I also look at Eddie Goldman, big nose tackle for the Bears.”
You can see the influence that those two players have had on Auzoyah Alufohai when you turn on his tape.
“I’m a player that plays with relentless effort, a player that does not give up on a snap. I’m a player that uses his long arms, gets extension, locks out, sheds blockers. Stops the run very well, ferociously. I really try and dominate the man in front of me.”
The NFL awaits...
A physically dominant and ferocious player on the field. A leader, joker, and a passionate family man off the field.
Over 10 years ago Eire Alufohai made the decision to send Auzoyah Alufohai back to the country he was born in, and now he his on the verge of being drafted to the NFL. His unlikely and improbable path to the NFL Draft is almost complete, and the woman who set him on it couldn’t be any prouder.
“My mum is my biggest motivation. She works her butt off each day. We’ve both been through a lot together. She’s my rock and my number one fan for sure.”
From Texas, to Nigeria, to Malaysia, to Georgia, to Kennesaw State, and back to Georgia, the next destination is unknown for Auzoyah Alufohai. One thing is for sure, the NFL awaits.
OLIVER HODGKINSON IS A COLLEGE FOOTBALL WRITER FOR THE TOUCHDOWN. HE ALSO WRITES ON THE NFL FOR THE PRO FOOTBALL NETWORK. YOU CAN HEAR HIS OPINIONS ON ALL THINGS COLLEGE FOOTBALL AS ONE THIRD OF THE COLLEGE CHAPS PODCAST.
Huge thanks to Auzoyah Alufohai for taking the time to speak to us.
Also to his agent, Tony Bonagura, for connecting us.