Among the four major North American professional sports leagues, the NFL has the most players who were born here in the United States. Despite this, there are a number of players who were born and raised outside of the U.S. In fact, there are currently 25 countries that have at least one player representing them in the league. Some of those players have made quite a name for themselves in NFL history for their extraordinary skills on the field, breaking records and wowing fans. Here are some of the most iconic NFL players who weren’t born in the U.S.
Freak Athlete Danielle Hunter
Danielle Hunter was born in Jamaica, but his family moved to Texas when he was he was eight years old. Hunter was recruited by his high school football coach when the coach saw Hunter chase down another student who was on roller-skates. He played college football at LSU and was drafted to the NFL in 2015 by the Minnesota Vikings as a defensive end. Hunter has been said to have freakish athletic abilities and to have developed technical skills at an astounding rate, with six sacks as a rookie, and 12.5 sacks last year, finishing third in the NFL.
Jan Stenerud was born in Norway and came to the U.S. on a ski jumping scholarship for Montana State University. After someone witnessed him kicking a football for fun, he was recruited by the school’s football coach, who taught him the game. He was initially drafted by the AFL, and then the NFL Kansas City Chiefs in 1970. Stenerud was the first Norwegian to play in the NFL and one of the first players to be used as a dedicated kicker. He won Super Bowl IV, achieving the longest field goal record. When he retired in 1985 the Chiefs retired his jersey. Stenerud was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1991.
Martin Gramatica was born in Argentina and moved to Florida when he was nine. In college, his field goal kicking skills earned him the nickname “Automatica”, and he still holds the record for the longest field goal in NCAA history. Gramatica was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1999 and was the starter for the NFC Pro Bowl team 2001. The following year his team won Super Bowl XXXVII. Gramatica was the best paid Argentine-American sportsman at the time and went on to sign a number of exclusive contracts with various advertising campaigns, such as United Way. After retiring in 2008, Gramatica and his two brothers started a construction company.
The Iron Kick
Sebastian Janikowski was born in Poland. His father was a soccer player and moved to the States in the 1980’s in hopes of reviving his career, leaving his son and wife behind. Janikowski inherited his father’s soccer skills. When his parents divorced in his teens, he moved to the U.S. to live with his father, and soon took up football. In 2000, he was drafted by the Oakland Raiders, becoming the fourth placekicker to ever be selected in the first round of the NFL draft. He’s the longest tenured active foreign-born player and holds the record for longest field-goal attempted at 76 yards.
The Defensive Powerhouse
Star Lotulelei currently is a defensive tackle for the Carolina Panthers. He was born in Tonga, a sovereign state in Polynesia, and moved to Utah at nine years old. During those years he played football, weighing in at 240 pounds, landing 72 tackles and seven sacks as a senior. He signed in 2013 as a starting defensive tackle for the N.Y. Giants. He’s currently a star player for the Panthers, pushing back players who weigh over 300 pounds like it’s nothing. While his stats may not be that impressive on paper, there’s no doubt his strength and power have been instrumental to the Panther’s defense.
Raised in Ghana, Ziggy Ansah grew up playing soccer and basketball. After high school, Ziggy became a teacher’s assistant and basketball coach. He moved to the Utah to attend Bringham Young University, and while there was first introduced to football, learning the game as he played for the college team. He was drafted by the Detroit Lions in 2013. Known for his explosiveness on the field, he made 12 starts at defensive end his rookie season, and in 2015 14.5 sacks ranked him third in the league. He was injured a few times in 2016, and many believe he hasn’t been the same player since.
Robert Griffin III’s parents were staff sergeants in the U.S. Military, so he spent a lot of his youth traveling from one military base to the next. He was born in Japan, and when his father retired in 1997, the family settled in Texas. He had an astounding football career in college, broke records for the 110-meter and 300-meter hurdles, and appeared on the Dean’s List twice. He was the drafted by the Washington Redskins in 2012 and named Offensive Rookie of the Year, then selected to go to the Pro Bowl in 2013. He’s currently a free agent.
Fleeing A War
At 10, Tamba Hali was sent to the U.S. to live with his father in order to escape his war-torn country of Liberia. Hali became focused on playing professional football so he could earn enough money to bring his mother to the U.S. He was drafted in 2006 by the Kansas City Chiefs. He ranked as the third defensive and was a member of the NFL All-Rookie Team. In 2010 he led the AFC in sacks and made it to the Pro Bowl five years in a row. He’s unable to perform this year due to an undisclosed injury.
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Having played soccer as a youth in Mexico, Raul Allegre first picked up a football while he was a high school exchange student in Washington. He broke a number of kicking records while there, and his coach sent a video of him to the University of Montana, which offered him a football scholarship. He was signed by the Giants in 1986, and during the team’s Super Bowl run, Allegre kicked game-winning field goals several consecutive weeks in a row. He retired after nine seasons and went on to work in television. He’s now a commentator for Monday Night Football and ESPN in Latin America.
Born in Germany, Ernie Stautner moved to the U.S. at three-years-old. After high school he joined the Marines and attended Boston College. In 1950 he was drafted into the NFL and played his entire 14-year football career for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Stautner was one of the best defensive linemen of his time. He played in nine Pro Bowls, made all-NFL for four years, and only missed six games. He retired as a leader in safeties and ranked third in fumble recoveries. He went on to be an assistant coach for the Cowboys and then went back to Germany for a few years to serve as the head coach for the Frankfurt Galaxy of the NFL Europe.
Cairo Santos grew up in Brazil with a love of soccer, and didn’t play American football until he traveled to Florida as an exchange student for high school. His plans to return to Brazil after one year changed after he began to perfect his field goal kicking. After a sensational college career, Santos was signed by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2014. He was the first Brazilian-born NFL player and was the team’s scoring leader for the season. Santos has the second most field goals made in the NFL and holds 21 records for the Chiefs, including the longest field goal made in the playoffs. He’s currently a free agent.
Against All Odds
Born in Nigeria, Efe Obada and his sister were trafficked from the Netherlands into England when he was 10. They were abandoned and homeless, ending up in social services. He became submerged in gang life, but once he discovered football in 2013, he turned his life around. Obada started playing for the British American Football Association in 2014, becoming the first player to be signed without having played college or pro football. The Dallas Cowboys signed him in 2015, and he became the first international player to go straight from a European League to the NFL. He’s now a defensive end for the Carolina Panthers.
A True Titan
Michael Roos was born in Estonia and moved to the U.S. when he was a child, attending high school in Washington. Roos was drafted in 2005 by the Tennessee Titans and started every game of his career as an offensive tackle. He was the highest draft pick ever to come out of Eastern Washington. Roos was also chosen to play the Pro Bowl in 2008 and named All-Pro three times before retiring in 2015. Roo’s college renamed their football field to Roos Stadium because of a generous donation he made to it for renovations.
A Giant On The Field
Ositadimma “Osi” Umenyiora was born in London to Nigerian parents. They moved back to Nigeria when he was seven, but at 14-years-old, Umenyiora left to live with his sister in Alabama. When Osi attended Troy University he was a star football player and was inducted into their Sports Hall of Fame. He was drafted by the N.Y. Giants in 2005, and was their defensive lineman during their wins in Super Bowl XLII and XLV. Osi has been to two Pro Bowls and holds an NFL record for the most forced fumbles in a single season. In 2013 he married Miss Universe 2011 Leila Lopes. He retired in 2015 and joined BBC Sport as an NFL pundit.
The Perfect Season
Gary Anderson was the first South African to play in an NFL regular season game. He came to the U.S. after graduating high school, where he played rugby. Anderson was soon introduced to American football, and he was immediately offered a scholarship. In 1982 Anders was drafted as a placekicker by the Buffalo Bills. He held the record for the most points in the history of the NFL. He’s one of only three to play in 300 games in an NFL career, was in the Pro Bowl four times, and was the first kicker in history to go through an entire season without missing a single kick. He retired after 23 seasons.
Sebastian Vollmer grew up in Germany and started playing American football at the age of 14 for a team in Germany. In 2004, he played in the Global Junior Championship in California and was then recruited by the University Of Houston. Vollmer was drafted by the New England Patriots in 2009 and was instrumental in the Patriots’ win in the AFC Championship that season. He was named second-team All-Pro in 2010. The 6-foot-8-inch, 320-pound tackle started 80 of the 88 pro games he played, barely ever missing a tackle. He lost 75 pounds after retiring in 2017 and stated that he never plans to play football again.
The Great Dane
Morten Anderson, nicknamed “The Great Dane”, was born in Denmark, where he played soccer. Anderson visited Indiana as a high school exchange student and was introduced to football, receiving a scholarship after playing for only one season. In 1982 he was drafted by the New Orleans Saints as a placekicker. He played in six Pro Bowls, had the record for the second-longest field goal, played the second most career seasons, has the second most PAT’s made, and became the first player to kick three field goals of over 50 yards in a single game. His impressive career came to a close when he retired in 2008 at 48 years old, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2017.
Born in Italy, Leo Nomellini moved to Chicago as a baby. After high school, he joined the Marines, where he learned to play football. After WWII, Nomellini attended the University of Minnesota, where he excelled on the field. He was huge for his time, and that, coupled with incredible speed and strength, earned him the nickname “The Lion”. In 1950 he was drafted by the San Fransisco 49ers, playing both offensive and defensive tackle. The Lion was a first-team All-Pro four times on defense and twice on offense, played the Pro Bowl 10 times, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977. During the off-season, Nomellini wrestled professionally.
AFL To NFL
Originally from Australia, Ben Graham was drafted by the Australian Football League in 1992, and won a number of awards including “Best First Year Player”. In 1997 the New York Jets asked him to try out as a punter, but he declined. He changed his mind in 2005 and signed a contract with them. He was the first Australian to captain an American professional sports team, and the only player to captain a team in two pro sports leagues. He played for the Arizona Cardinals when they won Super Bowl XLIII making him the first Australian to play in a Super Bowl.
DiGiorno-Sponsored Nate Burleson
Born in Canada, Nate Burleson moved to California as a baby when his father, who played in the CFL, was drafted by the USFL. Burleson was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in 2003 as a wide receiver. He also excelled as a punt receiver and was the first player in the NFL to return three punts of 90 or more yards for a touchdown. After retiring in 2014, Burleson became an analyst for the NFL Network, then a co-host of the NFL Network’s Good Morning Football. In 2013 DiGiorno sponsored Burleson after he got into a bad car accident while trying to save a pizza from sliding off of the front seat.