When a former NFL first-round pick says you have a future in football, you tend to listen.
That’s exactly what Santa Clarita Christian School senior Noah Nnabuo did when Björn Werner, the first player of German descent to ever be selected in the first round of the NFL Draft (2013), suggested Nnabuo move to America to enhance his football career.
Nnabuo had spent his entire life in Stuttgart, Germany, and hadn’t even picked up football until December 2013, when Werner came across the Hudl page of the 6-foot-4, 280-pound offensive and defensive lineman and was understandably intrigued.
Werner had played four seasons as a defensive end in the NFL, spent with the Colts and Jaguars, before calling it quits in January of this year. He didn’t call it quits on football in full, though.
He started Gridiron Imports, which works to put kids in the exact spot Nnabuo currently sits, with a legitimate shot to play NCAA Division 1 football — and beyond.
“When a person like that thinks you can make it to the next level, you can’t let an opportunity like that slip by,” Nnabuo said.
As much as it pained him to be away from his mother, Patience, he didn’t let the chance slip away. He made the move to America prior to last season, and after a brief stint at Viewpoint in Calabasas, he transferred to SCCS.
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Football in America was a bit different than he was used to, though.
“Everything (in German football) is like 30 times slower,” said Nnabuo with a big laugh.
Even some SCCS coaches were caught off guard at how different the regimens were between the two countries.
“I had no idea they only practiced two days a week over there,” said Cardinals defensive coordinator and athletic director Josh Kristoff. “When he got here, he struggled at times because we were pushing him in ways I don’t think he’d been challenged before on the football field.”
Noah learned to acclimate to practicing five days a week while also learning how to live without his mother.
“It was really, really, tough,” Noah said. “I’m a mama’s boy, honestly. I just had to keep reminding myself I was doing this for her, too. That helped me get through a lot.”
Also aiding in the transition were his host parents, Fred and Christy Gray. Their son, Ryan, also on the SCCS football team, informed them Noah was in need of a new home after his original hosts moved to Florida.
“We tried to treat him like he was our kid from day one and I think that helped him become comfortable in the house,” Christy said. “Whatever it was, we treated him like our own.”
That kind of treatment didn’t go unnoticed from Noah. They provided him with a chance to try authentic Mexican food for the first time and let him know barbecue sauce doesn’t necessarily need to go with every meal.
“They’ve made life really sweet out here,” Noah said. “They provide me with things that not every kid is lucky enough to have.”
Noah has flourished in his second season with the Cardinals, who are out to their best start in school history (8-0). Usually the biggest kid on the field by a wide margin, he’s made it nearly impossible to run on the Cardinals defense while also protecting quarterback Blake Kirshner’s blindside at left tackle.
“Our defense goes where Noah goes,” Kristoff said. “When he blows the center two yards off the ball, everything stops.”
Nnabuo talks in some form to his mother every day and remains in constant contact with Werner.
A blueprint for success has been given to Nnabuo in Tennessee tight end Jakob Johnson, who also hails from Stuttgart and went through the Gridiron Imports system.
Nnabuo is still waiting on his first offer but has been in contact with Division 1 programs like Western Michigan and Western Illinois. He’s also attended camps at Kentucky and Memphis.
“When you see someone that big and naturally gifted, the expectations are going to be through the roof,” said Fred Gray. “He has such a great heart and just wants to please everyone.
“He’s going to make some college coach very happy.”
With his size — and personality — an offer to play at the next level is certainly attainable. No matter what happens, though, Nnabuo is thankful for the ride.
“Look at where I’ve come from: a kid in Germany getting the opportunity to play in America,” he said. “I’m just happy. There’s nothing greater.”