Charlie Smyth is excited to show off his skills on a global scale after being acquired by the NFL’s New Orleans Saints

Steve O Speak

Charlie Smyth felt overwhelmed and anxious as he awaited the outcome of his pivotal moment. Transitioning from his roots in Mayobridge, where he once pursued teaching and Gaelic football, Smyth seized the opportunity to chase his American football dream, leading him to New Orleans. Despite the distance from home, the kicker impressed the New Orleans Saints.


During his training session with the team, which included showcasing his kicking abilities under the scrutiny of head coach Dennis Allen, Smyth experienced a whirlwind of emotions. Despite a mix of successful kicks and some misses, including a notable 61-yarder, Smyth’s nerves persisted until he was instructed to shower post-training. His head was all over the place as he waited to hear whether or not he would sign a contract with the Saints.


After swiftly cleaning up, Smyth received the promising news that he was to accompany someone upstairs, raising his hopes. His gut feeling was right when he met general manager Mickey Loomis, who offered him a three-year contract. Smyth’s life changed drastically after signing the contract and discussing the details with his agent. Despite having no prior experience kicking an American football before the previous August, he now finds himself with a genuine opportunity to compete in the NFL. The recent weeks have been a whirlwind for Smyth, describing them as “absolutely insane.”


Grateful for the overwhelming support from his hometown, Smyth acknowledges his fortune and expresses gratitude. Although aware of the lucrative potential earnings in the NFL, coming from a Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) background, Smyth remains grounded, understanding the competitive nature of the industry and the transitory nature of his position. He acknowledges the uncertainty of his status, recognizing the significant difference in earnings between being on the active roster versus the practice squad. While financial aspects are relevant, Smyth emphasizes his genuine passion for the sport and his commitment to personal growth as his primary motivations.

Smyth, who confessed to being a former Green Bay Packers enthusiast, maintains a determined yet composed demeanor as he faces the formidable challenge ahead. Despite once reaching out eagerly to NFL UK’s Instagram page seeking guidance on how to pursue American football, Smyth now appears focused and prepared for the journey ahead. Aware of the daunting task of competing against incumbent kicker Blake Grupe, whom he has yet to meet, Smyth acknowledges the hard work required to secure a spot as the New Orleans Saints’ kicker for the 2024 NFL season.


Confident in his abilities, Smyth believes he possesses the requisite strength, height, and power in his kicks, qualities he perceives as lacking in some other kickers. Although Smyth is aware that he needs to make improvements and continue to grow, he is confident in his abilities. He aims to absorb coaching advice and refine his technique to compete with the top kickers in the league, acknowledging the exceptionally high standard of play in the NFL.


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Expanding Its Reach: The NFL’s Quest for International Talent

Growing up in Lagos, Nigeria, Haggai Chisom Ndubuisi never entertained the idea of pursuing a career in football. Like his peers, he primarily played soccer and basketball until he stumbled upon NFL highlights on YouTube. “I had no prior knowledge of football. Soccer and basketball were my main sports,” Ndubuisi recalled. “The first NFL video I watched was a compilation of its greatest hits, and I was immediately captivated.”


Subsequently, Ndubuisi devoted years to self-learning the game through online resources, attracting attention from local scouts. He later joined a football academy in Ghana and earned an invitation to an international combine in London. After enduring countless miles, years of dedication, and numerous uncertainties, the 6-foot-6, 298-pound Ndubuisi realized his dream by joining the Washington Commanders, benefitting from the NFL’s International Player Pathway program.

Over the past decade, the NFL has been actively expanding its global presence, organizing games and cultivating fan bases worldwide. Simultaneously, the league is proactively scouting athletes from various countries as potential players. Since its establishment in 2017, the NFL’s International Player Pathway has emerged as a crucial avenue for international athletes, some of whom, like Ndubuisi, were only introduced to the NFL recently, to enter the league.


Since its inception, 37 international players have secured contracts with NFL teams, with approximately 20 currently under contract and five on active NFL rosters. Though the odds remain challenging, the introduction of a new international roster spot for 2024 has slightly improved the prospects of the NFL one day welcoming its own equivalents of Shohei Ohtani or Nikola Jokic.


To locate international talent for the NFL, recruiters employ innovative methods due to the vast scope of their search beyond American borders. While traditional recruiting in the US involves networking with high school coaches and intermediaries, international scouting requires a more diverse approach. For instance, players like Patrick Murtagh, transitioning from Australian Rules Football to the NFL, bring unique skill sets that recruiters identify through various channels. While Murtagh’s AFL background made him a recognizable prospect, many potential players remain unknown, prompting scouts to explore unconventional avenues to uncover hidden gems globally.

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