Yoann Miangué, from taekwondo to US football, the American dream of the NFL within reach


As the Super Bowl arrives on screens around the world on the night of Sunday to Monday, Frenchman Yoann Miangué left on January 31 to try his luck in the NFL thanks to a development program put in place by the prestigious football league American for the best international prospects. The former youth Olympic champion in taekwondo dreams of becoming the second French to play an official NFL game.

It’s a giant step forward but also a huge wall that awaits Yoann Miangue. Less than two years after discovering American football, here is already the Toulouse colossus (1.96 m, 130 kg) in the antechamber of the elite of his discipline. On December 30, he was named among the 11 international players chosen for the 2021 edition of the NFL Pathway *, a development program for young prospects outside the United States.

A dazzling progression for the Flash de la Courneuve player, one of the best French clubs, and for the France team. Arrived late in the game of hands that is American football, it is with his feet that he experienced his first sporting success. Charmed at the age of four by the cries and whirling kicks of taekwondo, Yoann Miangué became Youth Olympic champion in 2014, in Nanjing (China), adding two senior French champion titles in 2017 and 2018.

But a sudden death in December 2018, that of his mother, precipitates his arrest. « She was very present in this taekwondo project with me. Without her, it no longer made sense. She followed me everywhere, she was even there in China for the title.« , he explains. Dobok (taekwondo kimono) stowed away, 180 degree turn.

In 2019, head for Seine-Saint-Denis and Flash de la Courneuve, the biggest club in the discipline in France. Its size quickly works wonders. “I was put directly with the elites. I was like ‘Wow, this is going fast!’ At first, I was dropped on the rules. I learned, I’m still learning and I try to assimilate as quickly as possible « , observes the one who has been positioned as a defensive lineman.

A position he had not anticipated, but which better suits his colossal physique. “Basically, I wanted to be a linebacker because I love this position: you are right behind the defensive line and you are the master of defense. Then when I saw the job that it took, I understood that it wouldn’t necessarily have been a good idea! « , laughs Yoann Miangué. « His size didn’t match the linebacker position. He was a little too heavy and slow. He’s explosive over a short distance. On a longer one it’s complicated, so we put him back on the defensive line. », completes his coach at Flash de la Courneuve Nicholas simmoneau.

After a year and a half of accelerated learning, the news fell on December 30: he was selected among the eleven top prospects in the world to participate in the NFL Pathway. On the program: ten weeks of intensive preparation for the IMG in Bradenton (sports studies), Florida for a return on April 11, before, perhaps, joining the elite: the final squad of 53 players from a of the 32 NFL teams. « It’s a bit like starting from scratch, with Pro Day in your sights (April 29 to May 1). The goal is to integrate the practice squad (a group of players signed by a team but who do not participate in official matches), and then be part of the final roster « , continues the former French taekwondo champion.

To enter the NFL, two options are possible: the first is the university course in North America, as attempted Anthony Mahoungou, passed through Purdue University (Indiana) before attempting to integrate the Philadelphia Eagles. The second is through a development program, as had been done Sejean sejean in 2007, through the NFL Europe program, now discontinued. « In my day, there was still NFL Europe, the minor league where NFL players came who didn’t play a lot, » said the former Saint-Louis Rams player. have: Mexicans, Europeans and Japanese. With the financial crisis of 2008, the NFL shut down NFL Europe and there was no international development program until the Pathway. « , explains Sébastien Sejean.

Initiated in 2017, the NFL Pathway has relaunched a stalled international integration circuit. What an attempt to globalize a very self-sufficient and reclusive league, since no secondary league exists in the United States. « Since its inception in 2017, this program has been part of the NFL’s ongoing efforts to strengthen the influx of internationals. », congratulates himself Damani leech, the chief operator of the NFL international sector.

Around the other ten « prospects « , these players with high potential, does Yoann Miangué have a chance? The Frenchman has in any case two significant assets to hope one day to integrate the big league: his size and his knowledge of the requirement of the high level. « He’s an atypical player because he comes from a high level sport. We didn’t need to teach him a work ethic. His strength is his physique, and the mind that goes with his past. in taekwondo. He has a big advantage is that he immediately understands what it takes to be successful « , details his coach Nicholas Simmoneau. « I’m still quite tall and imposing so they tried to make the most of it », adds the defender.

Point to work in a league where the place is taken more than it is given: its aggressiveness, in a league which abounds in it. « His ‘weakness’ is that he’s nice. Usually I ask players to be virulent on the pitch, and Yoann is sometimes not strong enough. If you don’t push him to his limits, he is struggling to be. In the NFL, he will meet virulent people! « , anticipates Nicholas Simmoneau.

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Beyond his atypical profile, the Flash defender (22), one of the youngest of the 11 prospects called to the NFL, has another technical advantage: his position as a defensive lineman. « It’s a position where if you have a physique, you improve quickly. He will develop very quickly in this program, Sébastien Sejean analysis, also a defensive player. Admittedly, he only has two years of experience, but during this program, he will eat and sleep football. It may not get caught this year, but it needs to continue to develop for it to happen in 2022 « , assures the 37-year-old veteran.

At the end of the program in April, Yoann Miangué will know a lot more about his chances of integrating for good an NFL squad, which only one Frenchman has managed to do in history: Richard Tardits, who played 27 NFL games between 1990 and 1992. Subsequently, Philippe Gardent, Marc-Angelo Soumah, Anthony Dablé and more recently Anthony Mahoungou failed to pass the final selection.

Insurmountable obstacle for the young Toulousain? Absolutely not. « I’m not at all telling myself that it’s impossible. It’s a motivation to be part of the 53, I don’t ask myself any questions. My way of doing things for two years has paid off, so we will continue on this path . If it doesn’t, too bad, I might get a second chance and I’m still young. « , ambitions Yoann Miangué.

Sébastien Sejean, also stopped very close to the squad with the Saint Louis Rams in 2008 after playing preseason matches. The veteran therefore knows the difficulty of the business. « Everything is possible if the ingredients are there: if he trains, if he puts all the chances on his side, and if he listens to the people around, the specialists in the discipline as well as those who do not know it. nothing because sometimes they have the best perspective. He has an opportunity, let him seize it, and why not? « , he wishes to Yoann Miangué.

Today, only three players from the Pathway are present in the NFL squad: the German New England Patriots Jakob johnson (Fullback), the Australian of the Philadelphia EaglesJordan mailata (Tackle) and the BritonEfe Obada (Defensive End). Players owe more than stars, but above all reasons for hope for the 11 selected.

There remains one point which has nothing to do with the intrinsic level of the lucky ones: nationality. Whether they are Europeans, Canadians or Japanese, very few non-American gamers get the sesame. « If the Americans have an American player and a French player at their disposal with the same quality of play and who bring the same things to the field, they will turn more to the American, deplores Sébastien Sejean. This is not for a discriminatory reason, but for a story of affinities. It’s understandable. But compared to twenty years ago, Americans now know thanks to social networks that a player who was not born in the American continent can perform « , rejoices the one who ended his career at the Molosses d’Asnières-sur-Seine in 2018.

Because the NFL is ruthless: the most « bankable » league in the world maintains its own model: no minor league, partially guaranteed contracts, raising the level requested each year. « It’s extremely competitive. Places are expensive in the NFL. The starting players are excellent, the substitutes are very good players. Today, American football in France survives thanks to subsidies from the ministry. One day a player will be needed. European with the opportunity to play in a position that exposes him, and that the sponsors follow behind « , Sébastien Sejean concludes. It is up to Yoann Miangué to demonstrate that he can take on this role in the future.

* NFL Pathway: International development program implemented by the NFL since 2017 over ten weeks. The final objective is to allow a few elected among the eleven selected players to have a chance to join an NFL team. In 2021, the eleven members selected are: Aaron Donkor (Germany), Taku Lee (Japan), Yoann Miangue (France), Leonel Misangumukini (Austria), Adedayo Odeleye (United Kingdom), Ayo Oyelola (United Kingdom), Max Pircher (Italy), Sammis Reyes (Chile), Bernhard Seikovits (Austria), Lone Toailoa (New Zealand) and Alfredo Gutierrez (Mexico).


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