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49ers' football virgin has expert coach

The SportsXchange

Forget the fact that Lawrence Okoye has never played a down of football in his life. When the San Francisco 49ers rookies gathered for the first time over the weekend, he certainly did not look out of place.

The rugby star turned British Olympian in the discus looks the part of a future All-Pro defensive end. Blessed with elite athleticism in a 6-foot-6, 304-pound frame, he comes from a mold that makes coaches salivate.

It'll be the job of defensive line coach Jim Tomsula to make something of Okoye, and for head coach Jim Harbaugh, that's an ideal scenario.

"Well, we have an expert in that regard, and that's Jim Tomsula, who coached in NFL Europe," Harbaugh said. "He has done this a number of times. And I can't think of another coach who's coaching who's better-suited to take on that challenge."

Okoye is working with the defensive line and on special teams, but he figures to be a player who -- at a minimum -- could stick on the practice squad on sheer potential. He qualified for the finals of the discus at the London Olympics last summer just two years after taking up the sport. That ability helped pique the interest of the 49ers, who brought him in for a pre-draft workout, then signed him as a free agent after the draft.

"Everybody in our organization is excited to see it play out," Harbaugh said. "And we'll do everything in our power to give him a chance to be successful."

Okoye holds the British record in the discus.

"I had to work really hard to become good at it. It's going to be the same path in this sport," Okoye said recently. "When I start out, I'm not going to be as good as everybody else. I'm going to look out of place, that's for sure. But with some work and with time and effort, I know I can catch up and hopefully become a dominant player in the league."

Before a pre-draft visit with the New Orleans Saints, Okoye had never worn a football helmet.
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