Baltimore Ravens

For Ravens lineman Jermaine Eluemunor, London trip is a homecoming game

Twelve-year-old Jermaine Eluemunor was flipping through channels, looking for a Premier League soccer match, when a strange, alluring spectacle captured his attention.

The setting, London's Wembley Stadium, was familiar. But the game, an NFL matchup between the Miami Dolphins and New York Giants, was not.


"It was real muddy," Eluemunor (pronounced eh-LOO-muh-nor), a rookie offensive lineman for the Ravens, recalls in a reverent tone. "I had played rugby, but seeing people wearing pads and jerseys and these weird shoes, the helmets on their heads and the way they were colliding, I had never seen anything like that before, you know?"

The burly London youth didn't know a thing about American football. He just knew that based on what he was seeing, he had to try it. He was so taken with the game that two years later, when he was 14, he persuaded his parents to let him move to the United States so he could play.


This Sunday, Eluemunor will complete an improbable fantasy when he walks into Wembley as a member of an NFL team. It's fair to say no Raven is more excited at the prospect of playing the Jacksonville Jaguars in London.

Eluemunor has been on the inactive list for each of the Ravens' first two games, so he knows there's a chance he will not suit up for his homecoming game. Asked if that would be a blow, he grins.

He grew up watching soccer superstars David Beckham and Michael Owen work their magic at Wembley, and the idea that he'll enter the same stadium as a professional athlete is outlandish enough.

"Just being there is going to be huge for me," he says.

A Ravens teammate briefly interrupts his train of thought, teasing, "Oh, I'm from London. I drink tea."

Eluemunor, who still speaks with a trace of a British accent, takes the teasing with good cheer.

If the NFL needs a model for its efforts to expand the sport by staging international showcases, he's a good candidate.

He's not the first Brit to play in the league, but he's probably the first directly inspired by the games played in London over the past decade. He had no idea professional football existed before he happened across the Dolphins and Giants playing at Wembley. Ten years later, he's going back to his hometown as a member of the Ravens.


As a player, Eluemunor is a 6-foot-4, 330-pound powerhouse, but he's understandably unpolished. Many of his teammates began playing when they were youths. He didn't see action in a serious game until he was a senior in high school.

"He's really improving," Ravens coach John Harbaugh says. "In all honesty, he was pretty raw when he first got here. He played at Texas A&M, and I'm sure he came a long way there from where he was coming over from England. He's come a million miles."

After a practice last week, Eluemunor spent 15 minutes doing extra work with six-time Pro Bowl selection Marshal Yanda, who subsequently suffered a season-ending ankle fracture against the Cleveland Browns. Over and over they faced each other and popped out of their stances, Eluemunor attempting to mirror the veteran's exquisite footwork.

"He's doing a good job so far," Yanda said afterward. "He's a rookie, and the speed of the game is a little much for him, but he's adjusting."

Eluemunor, 22, was born in the Chalk Farm district of northwest London and grew up in nearby Camden Town.

He cheered for Arsenal Football Club (he still rises early on Saturday to watch Premier League games) and channeled his own rough-and-tumble nature into rugby.


"Growing up there, you can literally take a bus and explore the whole of England," he says, describing his childhood. "Here, you have to get in a car to go anywhere. Everything is so spread out. One state is bigger than all of England."

When Eluemunor pressed to go to the U.S., he was carrying on a family tradition. His father, John, grew up in Nigeria and moved to London when he was 14 in search of a better life.

"It was really the same reason I came here," Eluemunor says. "He wanted to do something for his family."

Eluemunor's aunt lived in New Jersey, so that's where he and his father headed.

The culture shock when he entered Morris Knolls High School was real, especially the language difference, even though he and his peers all theoretically spoke English.

What he knew as a lorry, they called a truck. Where he said bin, they said trash can. His rubbish was their garbage. His teachers made him repeat words such as "bathroom" and "three" because he didn't pronounce the "th" sound.


He put on football pads for the first time as a sophomore but didn't play much. The coaches didn't think he understood the game well enough.

After that first year, Eluemunor and his father went back to London to visit. Their journey took on a different tone when John informed his son that they might have to remain in England because he'd had difficulty establishing an economic footing in the U.S.

Eluemunor pleaded with his parents to allow him to return to New Jersey and live with his aunt.

"I remember putting on my coat, packing my suitcase and saying, 'Are we ready to go to the train station to get back to Heathrow?' " he says. "I just begged them for a good 10 or 15 minutes to give me an opportunity to go back. I promised them that I'd make it and graduate."

Eventually, they relented.

"They just saw that look in my eye that I wasn't going to let anything get in my way," he says.


By that point, Eluemunor was almost his current size, and he finally got on the field regularly as a senior in high school. But it was too late to attract recruiting attention from any of the big-time programs he dreamed about.

So he landed at Lackawanna College in Scranton, Pa., one of two schools that responded to a series of e-mails he sent to coaches.

He played well enough there that the power programs came calling after two years. As raw as he still was, Eluemunor joined Texas A&M of the Southeastern Conference.

Though he had grown up with the passion of British soccer fans, he'd never experienced anything like Texans' obsession with college football. He couldn't believe so many adults cared so fervently about the exploits of teenagers, performed between painted white lines and two goal posts.

Again, he progressed slowly at first, sitting out as a redshirt in 2014 and starting just one game in 2015. But the coaches saw something far greater in him.

"You have the talent to play in the NFL and you can do that," one coach told him. "Or you can go back to Jersey and pump gas."


It's a line that has stuck in his brain ever since. He feels a deep responsibility to pay off the risk his parents took by allowing him to pursue a life overseas.

And as a senior at Texas A&M, he rapidly evolved into a serious NFL prospect, one the Ravens picked in the fifth round of this year's draft.

Shortly after he received the call, Eluemunor was thrilled to realize the Ravens would play in London in Week 3.

"I'm really excited to see how everything has changed since the last time I was there," he says.

On Saturday, he hopes to visit his old apartment building on Ferdinand Street and catch up with friends who have their own kids now.

One thing that's certainly changed is England's enthusiasm for the NFL.


"Now, it's huge over there," Eluemunor says. "They have academies and different teams. Back when I was growing up, there was no such thing."

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Speculation has grown in recent years that if the NFL expands again, London might be a candidate for a team. Eluemunor does not dismiss that notion, though he believes it would be difficult because of the time difference and travel logistics.

"There's still a lot to figure out," he says. "But the game's getting bigger over there every year, so there's a high possibility of them doing something like that in the future."

He loves the idea that a new generation of British players might look to him as a model of how to crash America's most popular sport.

"I want to be here 10 or 15 years, to be one of those players that when he walks on the field, people are like, 'There he is!' " he says. "Through this game, I want to inspire others to shoot for their dreams.

"I want them to say, 'Why can't we achieve our dreams when this kid from London, England, came over playing a game he didn't grow up playing and is in the NFL at the highest possible level?' I want to be that person."