Boulder Bound: NFL Academy Product Yahya Attia Commits To Colorado

By Simon Carroll

Ask any high school football player in America, and they will tell you that scholarship offers are not taken for granted. And yet, the NFL Academy is developing overseas potential to such a high level that there is now a conveyor belt of talent making its way across the Atlantic Ocean each year.

The latest on that list is Yahya Attia, who signed with the Colorado Buffaloes on Wednesday. Simon Carroll spoke to the young star about his football journey, and decision to head to Boulder:

Yahya Attia is the perfect example of what has made the NFL Academy such a roaring success in just a few short years. Born in a small town in the north of Egypt, his father moved the family to Austria when he was young, searching for a better life. Growing up in Vienna, Attia found football after falling out of love with soccer. A young man with size, he was encouraged by his friends to try out for his local team the Vienna Vikings. Little did he know it at the time, but these were the first steps that would take him on a journey that, today, has seen him sign to play for one of the biggest college football programs in the USA.

Attia found out quickly he didn’t have just size – he had a lot of the other ingredients needed to play football too. Now standing at 6’4” and 330lbs, it might seem to us as if he was born to be an offensive lineman – but it’s easy to forget that pathways to the sport from anywhere outside of the US are a modern concept.

Go back 10, 15 years, and football was a closed shop. The minor smattering of international players at either the College or NFL level in the States was more happenstance than by design. Today, the sport is officially global. And the NFL Academy, based in Loughborough, is at the forefront of football’s thirst for talent from every corner of the world…

Credit: NFL Academy

Officially signing his National Letter of Intent to play for the Colorado Buffaloes, Yahya (pronounced ‘Yo-Yo’), was keen to stress just how important the Academy had been to his development as a football prospect. Making his way over to the UK after demonstrating his raw talent in Austria, Attia was quick to credit the coaching and setup that has afforded him this opportunity:

“My coaches, they have helped me so much. Coach [Gavin] Collins, Coach [Clayton] Turner, they helped me both on and off the field. My technique has gotten better, I’m stronger than before, faster than before – and now I understand the game so much more too. They’ve helped me work harder, smarter, be more physical – everything they could have done to prepare me for the next level, they did it. I’m so grateful to be working with them.”

Attia has grown his game so much in his short time with the NFL Academy – he only started playing the sport less than two years ago. Capable of playing at any spot on the offensive line, his proficiency at tackle and center in particular means it will be interesting to see how Buffs O-Line Coach Phil Loadholt intends to use him. If that name rings a bell, it should – Loadholt played 89 games in the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings over six seasons before becoming a coach. Attia has already formed a bond with his new mentor, and is excited to get to work:

“Coach Loadholt, he used to play with my linebacker coach [Chase Baker] in the NFL. Coach Baker put me in contact with him, and I’ll forever be grateful for that guy! Coach Loadholt, he liked what he saw; told me that to come this far in less than two years, I must be learning fast, listening to my coaches, soaking it all up and giving everything on the field. He saw what I could do, and that’s how we connected. He’s a great guy.”

It’s these connections, the opportunities to work out at football camps in the USA, that allows the NFL Academy to showcase what they’re doing. And based on the number of scholarships being offered, it’s working.

There hasn’t been one college football program in the FBS that has received as much attention as Colorado the last eighteen months. That’s largely due to the arrival of Deion Sanders as head coach last offseason, and the overnight change in perception of a school that had been struggling to compete for some time. ‘Coach Prime’, brings with him a high standard to the Rocky Mountains, and a culture that is changing the game – one that young athletes can associate with and want to be a part of. Much like fellow NFL Academy alumni Kofi Taylor-Barracks who walked this path before him, Yahya Attia was sold on the project – he wanted in:

“Coach Prime, he’s the man! It’s Prime Time in Colorado! I love what they’re building there, you know. Jordan Seaton is there, he said ‘I think I’m a dawg, I claim I’m a dawg, I’m going to Colorado to prove I’m a dawg’. And I think exactly the same way. The team has a real family feel that I want to be a part of, the fans look amazing, and the mountains remind me of back home in Austria. It’s just perfect – I can’t wait to get out there.”

Attia has something of a catchphrase – he likes to say he ‘plays with anger and a shocking level of effort’. It’s more than words though – and Colorado’s willingness to offer a scholarship backs that up. He also tried to give himself the nickname ‘The Bulldozer’ from his days back home in Austria, but that one hasn’t quite stuck yet. For now, his teammates know him simply as ‘Yo-Yo’ – but if anyone doubted his potential, they need only look at the athletic testing at his combine back in February. Build him a RAS card like you do for NFL Draft prospects and Attia’s score is already favourably comparable to that of NFL o-lineman DJ Fluker when he was LEAVING college – Yahya has yet to even step foot on campus:

For context, Fluker has 11 seasons and 108 games as a pro under his belt – playing multiple spots along the offensive line. The sky for Attia really is the limit.

Not to brag, but Yaya Attia isn’t the first European offensive lineman I’ve had the privilege of speaking to. Last offseason I spent some time with Kilian Zierer, the Auburn offensive tackle who hailed from Munich, Germany. His own football journey that saw a stint at community college before starring in the SEC culminated in him signing with the Houston Texans last season – an outcome that no doubt Attia would be happy with himself. But the mere knowledge that this dream can be achieved will no doubt spur the young star on even more. Two years ago football wasn’t even on his radar. Now, Power 5 college ball in the Big 12 awaits.

Despite the lofty comparisons of Zierer and Fluker, Attia isn’t getting ahead of himself. Excited for the new chapter he is about to embark on, he understands hard work stands between him and success. That said, he still has one eye on playing on Sundays in the future – the NFL very much remains the ultimate goal:

“The first step, for me, is to fight for every rep. To compete. I want to earn my opportunities, earn the game time, and get better on and off the field every day. Once I’ve done that, it’s about growing from there – and preparing for the level after that.”

‘The Boulder Bulldozer’ has a good ring to it. Attia now has the opportunity to make that nickname stick.

Credit: NFL Academy
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