VA month ago, the world looked very different to Mark Nzeocha. Since the German football professional lived on early retirement. Helping around the house, playing with the kids, shopping, but above all: enjoying your free time (in Nzeocha’s case: the couch). The midfielder had actually reached the end of his career in the National Football League (NFL) and had not been given a new contract after several seasons with the San Francisco 49ers. At the age of 31, especially as the new father of another son, it quickly became clear: That was it.
But beyond all the things you do as a football retiree (if your battered body still allows it), Nzeocha did something different every time he got up off the couch and out of the apartment: stay fit. He would not completely give up his dream and dream job. So he kept training privately and kept himself ready for safety.
Injuries are an almost daily occurrence in the American football world, with an average NFL career lasting only three years. Each team’s 53-man roster at the start of the season does not have much left at the end of the season when it’s either a break or a playoff. The corona pandemic and most recently the omicron wave are making a significant contribution to this. Then it has to fill up with new players, from the so-called “Practice Squad”, an internal team training group, or from the free player market.
In late December, when the regular season was almost over, Nzeoacha received a text message. His agent asked him if he had video recordings of his training sessions. Whereupon it can be seen that he is still in shape. An NFL team asked about him, Nzeocha’s agent wrote. Nzeocha wrote to his fitness trainer. He sent the videos. The agent sent her to Buffalo to join the Bills, the team that had discovered Mark Nzeocha’s name due to staffing issues. Then everything happened very quickly.
Nzeocha’s cell phone rang, his agent answered, and the story took a surprising turn. For it was not the Buffalo Bills who wanted to sign Nzeocha at such short notice, but his former employer, the San Francisco 49ers. The agent had also sent the video footage to them, so to speak, with no chance, and the 49ers were so impressed with what they saw that they wanted to strike out right away. New contract, admission to the Practice Squad to be able to step in if the absence list should make it necessary. Nzeocha did not hesitate: he got the call at. 18.00, he was at the airport at. 20:00, and the plane left his hometown of Dallas for San Francisco at. 21.00.
This was said by Nzeocha in early January in an online talk show by former NFL pro Kasim Edebali. A “whirlwind” of emotions broke over him, but also an “incredible rush”. For the next morning, after four hours of sleep, Nzeocha started again immediately. Medical check-ups at Stanford University, so the first meetings looked straight out onto the lawn. “Like I was there all the time. Rarely in my life have I felt so much love as that day. From my teammates, the coaches and also the leaders.” Getting used to it? It was not there.
He did not need that either. “He is an absolute professional, very smart, very physical and still has a very good dynamic,” confirmed Richard Hightower, the coach in charge of the special teams, promptly. Nzeocha was “activated” from the Practice Squad in the first week, i.e. he was appointed to the official team squad. According to NFL rules, each team can do this with up to two professionals from this training group per game. match. So it was that Nzeocha was back playing NFL football just five days after answering his agent’s call; San Francisco beat the Houston Texans 23-7.
From the field, the German defender went straight back to the training ground, continued to work, continued to wear, week after week. Against the Los Angeles Rams at the end of the season and the Dallas Cowboys in the first round of the playoffs last weekend, the now 32-year-old returned to the squad; The 49ers won both games. Time to take a deep breath? It’s not there. That’s why Nzeocha did not want to speak to FAZ this week.
Sunday night (02:15 CET on ProSieben and DAZN), the San Francisco 49ers will face title favorites Green Bay Packers in the playoff quarterfinals. It is not guaranteed that the German will join the team again. But probably. At least if one believes in the words of his coach. He said of Nzeocha: “It’s nice to have him back.”