The journey of Andover’s James Nyamwaya to a potential National Football League contact has been a truly unlikely one.
From his birth and early years in Kenya, to being talked into playing football as a freshman at Andover High, to stops at prep school and a Division 3 program due to lack of college opportunities, Nyamwaya broke out in is lone season as a walk-on at Merrimack College last fall, and at his pro day last month.
Now, with the 2023 NFL Draft kicking off on Thursday, Nyamwaya appears just days away from embarking on a professional football journey.
“I never thought, until recently, that I would have the chance to become an NFL draft pick,” said Nyamwaya. “I never imagined I would have the massive opportunity I have right now. It’s really surreal right now.”
A 6-foot-5, 310-pound defensive lineman, Nyamwaya is hoping to hear his name called in the later rounds of the draft — which some websites call a possibility — or sign with an NFL team as a rookie free agent immediately after the draft.
“So far, I’ve talked to 12 teams,” said Nyamwaya. “I know a couple of them want me a priory free agent. My agent could work it out that I could be selected in the seventh round. But to at least sign with a team as a priory free agent would be amazing. It would be a dream come true.”
Nyamwaya said he has had discussions with the two most recent Super Bowl champions — the Chiefs and Rams — along with the Chargers, Bengals, Ravens, Browns, Jets, Jaguars, Cowboys, Vikings, Steelers and Dolphins.
“The other day I was on a Zoom with (defensive line coach Karl) Dunbar from the Steelers,” said Nyamwaya. “I couldn’t believe I was doing something like that. The whole experience has been so surreal.”
BORN IN KENYA, LATE FOOTBALL START
A native of Kenya, Nyamwaya and his family moved to the United States when he was 9-years-old. But it took years for him to find an interest in football.
“Coming from Kenya, I didn’t really know anything about football when I moved to America,” said Nyamwaya. “I was a basketball player and soccer player. I didn’t even know the rules of football.
“I grew up playing basketball with (former Eagle-Tribune MVP and current Houston Texans quarterback) E.J. Perry (IV). Is dad, (Andover High football coach) E.J. Perry was always talking to me about playing football because of my size and athleticism. I finally decided to give it a shot freshman year, and it turned out I was pretty good at football.”
After playing four years for Andover High (Class of 2017), Nyamwaya moved on to play a postgraduate year at Bridgton Academy in Maine.
“Andover is an amazing football town,” he said. “I remember my first sack, against our rival North Andover. The crowd was going crazy. They made me want to keep chasing that feeling, no matter what. But I didn’t have too much interest coming out of high school. It made sense to go to Bridgton to get more experience on the field and off.
“Bridgton is an all-male boarding school, so there’s not much to do but lift, go to class and go to football practice. It helped me grown as lot as an athlete an student. I learned to live on a football schedule. There were so many people dedicated to football.”
CURRY COLLEGE STAR
Still without much college interest after Bridgton, Nyamwaya opted to play football at Division 3 Curry College (Milton, Mass.)
“There was a time when I wasn’t sure I would be playing college football,” he said. “Coming out of Bridgton, Curry was really the only school interested in me. I didn’t have that many options, and I wanted to get on the field and play as much as I could. It ended being great for me. I got a lot of playing time and in-game experience right away.”
A three-year starter at Curry (2019-19, 21), with a season cancelled due to the COVID pandemic, Nyamwaya registered 136 tackles, 63 solo, and 3.5 sacks in 26 games (5.2 tackles per game).
MERRIMACK COLLEGE BREAKOUT
With one season of eligibility remaining, Nyamwaya began exploring opportunities to play at the Division 1 level.
As it turns out, the right opportunity was just miles from his Andover home — at Merrimack College.
“I always wanted to play football at the highest level,” he said. “I knew I was bigger and stronger than a lot of players, and I was coming off two good seasons. I felt confident in my abilities. I knew if I wanted a shot at the NFL, I had to go Division 1.
“Merrimack worked out perfectly. I talked to coach (Dan) Curran, and he had a spot for me. The location worked out, being close to home, and financially it made sense.”
The decision proved a perfect fit for both player and college.
In 10 games, Nyamwaya turned in a team-high 5.5 sacks, to go with 27 tackles, 20 solo, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
“Merrimack was great,” he said. “I got there in January so I could take part in spring ball. The resources and coaches were great. At Merrimack, it’s all about working hard, and I’m a hard worker. I put my head down, and started grinding. I knew if I went there, locked in and performed, I had a chance at the next level.”
“At the end of last season, coach Currant told me I had a chance at the NFL,” said Nyamwaya. “I had the size, the athleticism and the build, and was coming off a very good season.”
His case was further bolstered by his performance at his Pro Day in March at Holy Cross.
Nyamwaya scored a 35-inch vertical leap — which was better than any of the defensive tackles at the NFL Combine — to go with a 9-3 broad jump, 4.68 shuttle hurdles and 5.04 40-yard dash.
“I also impressed the scouts with my footwork and work on the bag drills and defensive line positional drills,” he said. “That’s when my name started to buzz a lot and I started talking to NFL teams.”
Now, Nyamwaya hopes to hear his name called at the NFL Draft, or find a team after.
“For Day 1, I’ll be at a draft party at my agent’s,” he said. “The last two days, I’ll be at home sitting by the phone. I’ll be trying to keep my mind busy and occupied, and stay confident that it will happen eventually. When it does, it will be a dream come true.”