SUNBURY-ON-THAMES, England (AP) — A decade after discovering the NFL, Baltimore Ravens lineman Jermaine Eluemunor is back where it all started in London.
He watched on TV the first regular-season game in England, just a few miles away from where he grew up. Now Eluemunor will step onto the Wembley Stadium turf on Sunday when the Ravens take on the Jacksonville Jaguars.
It’s the fulfilment of a dream when the 12-year-old Eluemunor stumbled across the game between the New York Giants and Miami Dolphins.
That passion for the game only grew with every step of Eluemunor’s journey — from joining local flag football team London Blitz to moving two years later to Danville, New Jersey, with his family to pursue the sport.
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Eluemunor spent two years at a junior college before success at Texas A&M. The Ravens drafted him in the fifth round this year. He hasn’t played a snap in the first two games, but could make his NFL debut at home.
“Going into my career I knew I wanted to play at Wembley and play back in England. I didn’t think it was going to be week three of my rookie season,” Eluemunor said Friday after the Ravens held a practice session outside London. “When I was playing for London Blitz at the time, I had no idea I was going to be back here maybe 10 years later. So it’s crazy.”
For the NFL, Eluemunor is testament to the impact of the league’s decade-long annual trek to England. The games aim to raise the interest level of the NFL in Europe — especially among young fans — and Eluemunor is hoping more European youth will be inspired to follow him.
“I was inspired to play by watching the first game at Wembley Stadium,” he said. “I feel it’s my job to inspire others to go after their dreams and achieve what they want to achieve and know that just because your dreams are in another country or another place, it doesn’t mean you can’t go there and achieve that. It’s going to be hard, but if you really want it, you can go and get it.”
It’s the Ravens’ first visit to London, while the Jaguars have been coming every year since 2013. Quarterback Joe Flacco said the team was dealing well with the overnight flight, the five-hour time difference and new surroundings.
“I honestly thought we’d be zombies walking around out here,” Flacco said. “In meetings earlier today, I was a little bit tired. But ever since I’ve been up and moving around, I’ve felt pretty good. I thought practice was pretty typical for a Friday.”
Coach John Harbaugh said the travel had not affected the quality of the practice session.
“I was really watching that to see how our guys would handle that part of it,” Harbaugh said. “Our guys have been great, I just complimented them. We had a great practice.”
While Harbaugh is aware of the ambassadorial nature of these games, he still wants to win.
“More than anything, playing the game is our responsibility,” Harbaugh said. “We have a lot at stake. This is a regular-season game, this game means a lot to us.
“We’re in the middle of our season, we’re in the thick of it. So there’s nothing else really for us besides playing the game really well.”