Roy Mbaeteka, a 6-8, 331-pound offensive tackle from Nigeria, has been added to the Bears roster through the NFL's International Player Pathway (IPP) Program.
Established in 2017, the program strives to provide top athletes from around the world with the chance to earn an NFL roster spot and increase the number of international players in the league.
Mbaetka, 23, never played high school or college football. He started playing basketball at the age of 17 and heard about an IPP tryout camp in Nigeria. Unable to afford to travel the 470 miles from Lagos to the camp in Abuja, he hitched a ride.
Former Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora, who works with the NFL to help develop the game in Africa, discovered Mbaetka at the camp and selected him to train at an International Combine at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium last year in London. He later participated in a training camp at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
Mbaetka was allocated to the New York Giants last April. He spent parts of the season on the practice squad but did not appear in a regular-season game.
Mbaetka is one of eight international players to be added to NFL rosters—one on each team in the NFC North and AFC West. The teams can carry the IPP players until the end of training camp. At that time, the players are eligible for an international player practice squad exemption. Clubs also can elevate the players to their active rosters during the season.
Six of the IPP players are from Nigeria, with one from Australia and one from France.
"To see this hugely talented group of players be allocated to NFL rosters is very exciting, and a testament to the success of the NFL's global football development programs for international athletes," said Peter O'Reilly, NFL Executive Vice President, Club Business, Major Events & International. "The International Player Pathway is a critical program in identifying, supporting and enabling athletes from around the world and we look forward to seeing each players' NFL journey unfold as they become global ambassadors for the sport."
Thirty-seven international players have joined NFL teams since the start of the program. They include Eagles offensive tackle Jordan Mailata (Australia), Commanders defensive end Efe Obada (United Kingdom), Raiders fullback Jakob Johnson (Germany) and Commanders defensive tackle David Bada (Germany).