Los Angeles Chargers Sign Former Ohio State Track Star At WR Position

Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

With no prior football experience, Praise Olatoke joined Ohio State’s club team in 2022. Now, just two years later, he’s been given a shot at the NFL. The Nigeria-born, Scotland-raised sprinter was one of 16 players added to the NFL’s International Player Pathway Class and is now a member of the Los Angeles Chargers.

 The 6-foot-2, 205-pound now-wide receiver has run the 40-yard dash in as fast as 4.36 seconds. But according to him, his best ability is his competitive drive.

“I’ve sort of established to myself that this is what I want to do. So I’m not going to let this opportunity go by me because of ignorance or attitude or character,” Olatoke said. “I know physically, I can do it. I’m tall enough, fast enough, I’ve got the right makeup. So just marrying those two together gives me confidence that I can do what I say I want to do.”

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs
Denny Medley-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Olatoke left Scotland for Canada pursuing his dream of making an Olympic team, but his big dream was always to play American football, no matter how unlikely it seemed.

“When I got to Canada, I told my coach, Jamie Sinclair, ‘I want to play American football,'” Olatoke said.

“So, I was in Canada for two years, ran track and I got the opportunity to go to Ohio State to run track again.”

“One of the things that attracted me to Ohio State is that they had a big football program and I felt if I’m at least in the room, if I’m at least around football, that just gives me a better chance to actually play.”

Olatoke played just one season for Ohio State Club Football, catching seven passes for 231 yards and four touchdowns in 2022. His 33.0 yards per catch was the best in the National Club Football Association amongst players who participated in seven or more games that season. The 2022 season was his first and only year playing organized American tackle football.

His best times were 10.27 seconds in the 100 meters and 20.69 seconds in the 200 meters

Los Angeles Chargers Wide Receiver Room

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers-OTA
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Chargers wide receivers have been inundated with new faces, even the familiar ones are on their rookie contracts. They’ve added DJ Chark as a free agent, added Ladd McConkey, Brenden Rice, and Cornelius Johnson in the draft, and three more as undrafted free agents.

While it is a loaded room, there is a sense that with the new coaching regime and the level of inexperience, no one’s job is guaranteed. And Olatoke’s combination of size and speed makes him an outlier among the current Chargers receivers. Both Derius Davis and McConkey have sub-4.4 40 speed, but both are under 6 feet and at 165 and 185 pounds respectively come nowhere near Olatoke.

NFL: Preseason-Los Angeles Chargers at Los Angeles Rams
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Of course, straight-line track star speed doesn’t make for a complete receiver. The big question is can, someone with no high-end experience do enough to catch up with people who have been playing the game since they were in short pants? This isn’t lost on him.

“I’m used to just running a straight line as fast as I can, as hard as I can,” he says. 

“But football is very cerebral. You have to think on the fly while you’re thinking you also have to catch the ball and then think some more. 

“There’s a lot of thinking that goes on to it, but it’s also really fun and the team aspect is something I love as well…”

“Being around people and being able to push each other and sort of that kind of thing. I love that.”

For the Chargers it is a low-risk-high-reward prospect to experiment with that very idea.

Defensive tackle CJ Okoye joined the team in 2023 via the International Player Pathway.

NFL: Preseason-Los Angeles Chargers at Los Angeles Rams
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports