Nigeria's Roy Mbaeteka on steep NFL learning curve after move to Chicago Bears

Mbaeteka keen to grown his game with Chicago Bears (1:03)

Nigeria's Roy Mbaeteka, who was with the New York Giants last season, says his move to the Chicago Bears via the International Player Pathway has been a steep learning curve ahead of the new NFL season. (1:03)

Nigeria's Roy Mbaeteka gave up his place at the International Player Pathway last season after being scouted by the New York Giants, and while that move didn't work out, he's hoping his new chance at the Chicago Bears pays off this season.

Mbaeteka would have been guaranteed a roster spot for all of last season if he remained in the IPP Program and was allocated to the team, but he chose to give that up when the Giants showed interest in signing him as a free agent.

He found himself moving in and out of the practice squad, and rather than signing a reserve/futures deal, Mbaeteka opted to return to the IPP Program this season. He was allocated to the Chicago Bears, and feels his experience with his mentor Osi Umenyiora's old team was positive.

Mbaeteka, who only learned to play American football three years ago, told ESPN of the original offer from the Giants: "It happened so quick, and I kind of loved the atmosphere in the building.

"So when they offered, I talked to Osi and my agent and they said it was a good deal and somewhere Osi had already been before. He said they were a really good organization and I felt it. It was a good choice."

However, having taken a leap of faith with the Giants, Mbaeteka now feels the best way for him to grow further is through the safety net of the IPP Program, where he can remain on the Bears roster all season.

Mbaeteka is confident his game has come forward in leaps and bounds in the last year. Having played in two preseason games for the Giants last term, he has already featured twice for the Bears this year and believes the only way is up from here.

He said: "The more I learn and the more I understand, the more I blend in with the atmosphere. So far, so good. I'm pretty happy with the way things are going and the coach (Matt Eberflus) has a very good vision for me and he's putting me in a situation where he's giving it to me bit by bit.

"He understands that I need to grow as a player and he's doing everything he can... The people, the culture, the new city. Everything about the place is beautiful. The experience is different, but I just love the atmosphere here.

"For me, I try not to live too far in the future. I like to live in the present, so I take it every day as it comes. I try to win every day. My challenge to myself is to get better every day, even if it's by a small inch. Movement is movement."

Mbaeteka hopes to also serve as a mentor to his fellow homegrown Nigerian talents, who have joined him in the NFL after being discovered by Umenyiora's Uprise programme in Lagos.

Since Mbaeteka became the first product of Umenyiora's camps to feature in preseason for an NFL team last year, he has been joined by compatriots Kenneth Odumegwu (Green Bay Packers), CJ Okoye (Los Angeles Chargers), Haggai Chisom Ndubuisi (Denver Broncos), Chukwuebuka Godrick (Kansas City Chiefs) and David Agoha (Las Vegas Raiders).

"I spoke with CJ following his performance this last game and I also spoke with Chu [Godrick] before his game. I try to keep close contact with those guys," Mbaeteka said. "I love to celebrate other people's success. Seeing them make that massive stride was really exciting for me and I'm happy for them."

Back home in Nigeria, Mbaeteka knows he is being watched by his friends and family - a sign that Umenyiora's efforts to help the NFL reach a larger audience in Africa are paying off.

Mbaeteka hopes that the NFL will soon reach the level of popularity in Nigeria of the NBA - a league which every one of his friends has an opinion on, particularly given that he himself was spotted by former basketball star Ejike Ugboaja, who has a talent-scouting partnership with Umenyiora.

Mbaeteka joked of his family's NFL knowledge: "They're watching, but analyzing the game? No. They just want to see you on TV. My brother will try to understand what's going on, but my mom and my dad... They're just like: 'I see you on TV.'

"Definitely, I see it getting to that point where people are very invested in it. People will start to watch it more frequently and it will become as popular as soccer is and as popular as basketball is. I believe there will come a time when American football is something that everyone in Africa will watch - and understand and love the game too."

Mbaeteka's family will be watching on eagerly as the Bears close their preseason against the Buffalo Bills on August 26 before kicking off their NFL regular season campaign against the Green Bay Packers on September 10.

The NFL airs on ESPN's channels in Africa, on DStv 218 and 219.