49ers' Okoye calls football 'hardest thing I've ever done'

Okoye: 'I'm just trying to learn as much as possible, as quickly as possible'

49ers' Okoye calls football 'hardest thing I've ever done'
June 27, 2013, 3:00 pm
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Lawrence Okoye: "All I do now is sleep, eat and train." (AP)

The 49ers signed 21-year-old British Olympian Lawrence Okoye this offseason in hopes that the physical specimen could transition into a force on the defensive line.

[REWIND: 49ers guarantee Okoye $3K, opportunity]

The 6-foot-6, 284-pounder recently told ShortList magazine that it's been anything but easy.

"It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done," Okoye said of picking up American football. "I’m under no illusions."

By all admissions, Okoye was significantly behind his peers through team minicamp, which broke June 13.

"He's like all these rookies here except he's never played football before," defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. "So magnify it to that degree. He's got a lot to learn. Not just learn. Guys play peewee football, high school football, college football for a reason. And he hasn't. So he'll have a lot to learn. But I don't think we'll get a true picture of him for awhile."

"You just kind of wonder what the jump would be from Year 1 to Year 2 for him," head coach Jim Harbaugh said. "And I hope that he continues to show up, listen, work extremely hard, and show enough that we'll be able to go from Year 1 to Year 2."

[RELATED: Olympian Okoye much further behind than other 49ers rookies]

Okoye first has to make the jump to pads and contact, which will take place when the team opens training camp in Santa Clara late in July. All the offseason drills Okoye has participated in have been non-contact.

"He hasn't had anybody hit him, yet," Fangio said. "He hasn't had a double-team, yet. He hasn't figured out if it's a run or pass, whether he should rush or play the run. So it'll probably be a very slow process with him much more than a normal rookie."

"It’s going to be tough to learn everything, from the defensive playbook to the positional responsibilities of our defensive scheme, from scratch," Okoye acknowledged in the interview.

He also said that his training regimens for football and discus are "worlds apart," and that he gets interesting looks for playing south London grime music, which he typically trained to at home. But one revealing detail from the interview was Okoye's driving factor in joining the 49ers -- defensive line coach Jim Tomsula.

"He has a great history in NFL Europe, where he started in England with the Monarchs," Okoye said. "He’s known for developing people without much of a background in the game, and even those who have never played the sport. I fall into that category."

If anyone is up to the task, it could be Okoye, whose penchant for hard work is emulated by his daily routine.

"All I do now is sleep, eat and train," Okoye said.