Edmund Kugbila never watched an NFL game in his 10 years in Ghana.
A skinny soccer player growing up, he thinks he might have caught a rugby game on TV once, but never American football.
Now, 13 years after he and his family moved from Africa to Lawrenceville, Ga., Kugbila is a Carolina Panther.
The team selected the Valdosta State offensive lineman in the fourth round with the 108th overall pick on Saturday, beefing up its offensive line as general manager Dave Gettleman continues to add line movers on both sides of the ball.
Kugbila is an exciting young player whos raw, but hes got tremendous upside and hes a big, heavy body, said Panthers coach Ron Rivera of Kugbila, who was the second Ghana-born prospect taken in this years draft after Ziggy Ansah went No. 5 to Detroit.
Guys that are big, heavy bodies who move and have athleticism are rare and hard to find. Were very fortunate to have a guy like that.
Not only is being drafted in the NFL a long shot, but its a wonder Kugbila even made it to the United States. His family won a visa lottery, which annually distributes about 50,000 visas to immigrants from countries all over the world, when he was 10 years old. His mother, Lucy, had immigrated to the United States in 1997 and settled in Lawrenceville, just outside of Atlanta.
The nurse and wife of Cletus, a civil engineer, had a dream to move to Georgia, her son said.
Its a long shot, but God answered our prayers and gave us a chance to come here, Kugbila said.
The first football game he ever watched was Super Bowl XXXV between the Ravens and Giants in January of 2001. A few years later he began playing the sport as a seventh grader, and as his size and talent grew, so did interest from top Division-I schools.
SEC schools like Alabama, Georgia and Florida expressed interest in the big lineman, but he struggled to qualify academically. Eventually, Kugbila landed at Division II Valdosta State, winners of two national titles in the five years before he enrolled.
He played two seasons at right offensive tackle before sliding inside to guard, where he helped the Blazers to a national title in his senior year. In 32 career starts, Kugbila had 187 knockdowns and graded with 81.7 percent blocking consistency. Ninety-seven percent of his career snaps resulted in positive yardage.
The thing that Ive harped on with the scouts is (a lineman) has to be instinctive, Gettleman said. If hes not a naturally instinctive football player, youre wasting your time at the end of the day.
Beyond all the physical skills, the kid is smart and instinctive.
Kugbila, the first Blazer selected in the draft since 1997, was the first player from Valdosta State to ever be invited to the NFL combine. He didnt overwhelm scouts with his 23 bench reps of 225 pounds, but the Panthers and assistant offensive line coach Ray Brown liked him enough to work him out three days after his pro day, where he ran a 5.13 40-yard dash.
Kugbila said he can play on either side of the line, which could mean he pushes either left guard Amini Silatolu entering his second year in the league or veteran right guard Geoff Hangartner.
(Brown) sees the potential in me, Kugbila said, and he sees I can be great, and I know I can be great.
But 13 years ago, playing in the NFL was more than 5,000 miles away and even further from his mind.
Position: Offensive guard
School: Valdosta State
What he offers: A big, powerful and athletic body that Panthers coaches hope will be able to protect quarterback Cam Newton both in and outside the pocket.
Why he fits: The Panthers could use someone in training camp to push Amini Silatolu at left guard or potentially overtake Geoff Hangartner at right guard. Kugbila provides the size that could help in the trenches.
Worth mentioning: Gettleman said Kugbila weighed 400 pounds when he was a freshman at Valdosta State and shed 80 pounds essentially on his own.
Bet you didnt know: His little brother, Romauld, is a freshman on the West Georgia football team. Though the two teams met last season, the brothers didnt play each other since Romauld redshirted.
What theyre saying: Dave Gettleman has attacked both lines in the draft, which is logical because Carolina desperately needed help in the trenches. Kugbila could compete for snaps right away at right guard. Rotoworld.com
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