clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Michael Esiobu takes unlikely path to NFL shot with New York Giants

Nigerian-born wide receiver played no varsity football in high school

Michael Esiobu
[Photo courtesy Lakeland Athletic Dept.]

Michael Esiobu, a wide receiver from tiny Lakeland College in Sheboygan, Wisc. who is one of the undrafted free agents trying out for the New York Giants later this week, is probably one of the most inexperienced football players to ever get a shot with an NFL team.

Esiobu, in fact, played so little football before getting a chance with the Division III Muskies that it's sort of amazing he even got an opportunity at that level. Much less a chance to make it in the NFL.

The Nigerian-born Esiobu played a little bit of high school football, but never reached the varsity level. When his family moved back to Nigeria that was the end of his high school athletic career.

Back in the states for junior college, Lakeland football coach Colin Bruton said Esiobu came across Lakeland "by chance" when a friend came to the school on a basketball recruiting visit. Esiobu contacted the Lakeland football office and asked for a chance.

“He kinda recruited himself to us," Bruton said. “We took a flier on a kid that we thought had upside, but we knew was extremely raw.

“Just looking at him he looked he was a kid that had a good frame that could put on weight. Really developed as an athlete here and really just a testament to how hard he worked. He was kind of a weight room junkie, was always in the weight room and really worked hard to develop his body and work on the technical aspects of being an athlete as far as being a receiver at our level.”

Not only had Esiobu played very little football before arriving at Lakeland, the football he had played had been as a running back.

“He had to learn from Day 1 everything from stance all the way on down to route running and all that kind of stuff," said Bruton. "It was a really unique situation.

“We were willing to take a chance on a kid like that, and he developed. If you had told me four years ago that the New York Giants would be signing one of our kids it certainly would not have been him.”

Esiobu is the first player in Bruton's nine seasons at Lakeland to get a shot with an NFL team.

“It’s been really cool, really exciting on campus. People are really excited about it. Everybody kinda knows Mike's story," Bruton said. “Everybody knows Mike from administration on down and they’ve kinda witnessed his transformation, which is cool to see.”

Michael Esiobu catches a pass vs. Carthage
[Phto courtesy Lakeland Athletic Dept.]

Esiobu, who has developed into a 6-foot-2, 225-pounder, did not catch a pass as a freshman for the Muskies, and caught only eight in nine games as a sophomore. He caught 33 as a junior and last season, as a senior, had 56 catches for 792 yards and seven touchdowns.

So, what kind of player is the young man and how did the Giants find out about him? Perhaps finding him is a testament to the mundane drudgery of the scouting universe, leaving no stone unturned to find talented players who might -- just might -- have a skill that can help your team win a football game one day.

Esiobu participated in the Northwestern Pro Day, then played in the Division III Senior classic in Daytona Beach, Fla. Bruton said he is "not really sure" where the Giants became aware of Esiobu.

“They’ve kinda been the team that has been interested the most throughout the process," Bruton said.

How good can Esiobu be?

“It’s hard for me to answer that. We don’t coach NFL guys on a daily basis, so it’s hard to measure," Bruton said. "He’s physically very strong. He physically is going to look the part vs. any Division I guy, any guy the Giants have drafted, any guy they have he’s gonna look the part. He’s physically put together."

Bruton said Esiobu benched 225 pounds "23-24 times," -- better than any wide receiver at the combine -- and is "right at the top of those numbers" for wide receivers in the vertical and broad jumps.

In addition to level of competition, Esiobu will face a couple of questions in his quest to have an NFL career. He is already 23, turning 24 in November. He also run the 40-yard dash in the 4.6 to low 4.7 range, which would have put him among the slowest wide receivers at the combine.

“The straight line speed is gonna be the biggest question mark he’s gonna have. Can he flat out separate from corners at that level? That’s really gonna be his biggest challenge. If he can solve that he’s a crafty kid, he’s a good route runner, he really uses his upper body well in route running. … the way he can lean his body into defenders to create separation," Bruton said.

“The question is just gonna be can he separate with speed.”

There is no question, though, that this has been a heady time for both Esiobu and for Lakeland.

“It’s been an exciting couple days for us, from a football program standpoint, but also on campus. From the president of the college on down people are very supportive," Bruton said. “To see a kid like that continue to work and continue to develop is what’s really been cool for us.”