Elhadi Ndiaye took a chance on football three years ago, and now he’s giving people reasons to take a chance on him.
The New Utrecht graduate, who was a basketball standout most of his life, took the advice of his cousin, NFL lineman Ogemdi Ndiaye, to move his game to the gridiron.
“He was with the Chargers at the time,” Ndiaye said. “In the offseason I would go down and he would bring me with him. I was just doing drills along with him and I just loved it.”
The 6-foot-4, 265-pound Ndiaye, a native of Senegal, became a star defensive end at Division-II Nebraska-Kearney as a junior in college and briefly signed with the Cleveland Browns after graduation in 2014.
Now he has earned a chance at reviving his pro-football dream when he was picked from a group of more than 200 players for one of the final spots on the Brooklyn Bolts roster at open tryouts Sept. 20.
“He showed explosion, and we just felt like he appeared to be light on his feet,” said Bolts coach Terry Shea.
Ndiaye didn’t try out for the Fall Experimental Football League last season because his agent didn’t know much about it. But when the two did their homework, they were impressed with the opportunity it provided.
Unlike the Canadian Football League, players aren’t locked into contracts for a full season. They can leave for an NFL opportunity at any time. The level of competition is also high, with teams featuring former college stars, many of whom already received looks from NFL teams.
“Then we were able to see the stats,” Ndiaye said. “They were able to help players get back to the NFL, so me and my agent thought it would be a good idea to give this a shot.”
Just like he gave football a shot after making his name in a different sport.
Football was all around him in his family, because his younger brother Dame Ndiaye was a heavily recruited defensive end. Elhadi Ndiaye said he used to be mistaken for Dame and was told by coaches such as Eagles headman Chip Kelly, who was at Oregon at the time, that he needed to play football.
Still, Elhadi remained the basketball player in the family as it bounced all over Brooklyn from public housing development to another. No one pushed him toward football because he was pretty good on the hardwood, earning All-American honors at Grossmont (Calif.) junior college.
He got to the gridiron on his own, realizing his size and athletic ability could take him a long way as a football player.
“[My cousin Ogemdi] would just bring me protein shakes, food,” he said. “I started eating and lifting with him. Next thing you know, I went from 218 to 240, and all of a sudden kept getting bigger.”
Ndiaye still needed to learn the ins and outs of the game and said he didn’t even know how to put on pads when he arrived at Nebraska-Kearney. The teaching aspect is another reason why playing for the Bolts was important.
He is working with offensive line coach Eric Hicks on technique daily and playing in a lower stance. His eagerness to learn was one of the reasons the Bolts coaches took him.
“We think he has at least the demeanor to get to the next level,” Shea said. “Whether he can play at that level, that is for the NFL coaches to decide.”
Until that time, Ndiaye is going to enjoy playing at home — and soaking in as must football knowledge as possible.
“I’m just trying to get better at the things that I know I must improve on,” Ndiaye said. “The rest is in God’s hands. The only thing I can control is how hard I work and how much better I get.”
The Bolts open against the Florida Blacktips at 7 pm on Oct. 2 at MCU Park.