Derek Akunne: From Academy Employee to NFL Linebacker to Doctor


Every athlete has a story to tell and the life of Derek Akunne is one that couldn’t go untold. Akunne went from working at an Academy sporting goods store to getting a call to play for the Dallas Cowboys, and now he is close to his doctorate degree.

After an impressive late-pushing college career, Akunne did not get drafted. However, he did get the attention of the Atlanta Falcons in 2015 and earned a spot on their practice squad, but was cut mid-season. While he went back home waiting for another team to call, he got a job at Academy.

But soon, the Dallas Cowboys called. Akunne takes us through what he remembers.


Akunne said, “I’ve been working there [Academy] for like two or three weeks, and I got a call from my agent early one morning and I was still half asleep.”

His agent got a call from the Cowboys and they wanted to sign Akunne that day to their practice squad.  Akunne, still half-asleep, asked, “Who?” Akunne admitted that he grew up a Cowboys fan, so his tenure at Academy was short-lived.


“I remember that moment, being so excited for it, and imagined playing that position [linebacker],” he said. “I’ll never forget that first pre-season game, I saw my name on that jersey and a helmet with a star on it; it was just a surreal moment for me. To see guys like Jason Witten, Dez Bryant, and Tony Romo, you never imagine being in the same locker room as those guys.”

Akunne caught the eyes of many Cowboys fans who will remember him for his hit on Jared Goff that caused an interception. His play was exciting to watch as he was quick and he was always around the ball.

Akunne soon learned that the NFL really stands for “not for long,” and his professional career was over. He made plays during pre-season and was making noise in camp.

“Jason Garrett told me was that I was undersized, and I had trouble getting off the blocks,” Akunne recalls. “I was like, well, yeah, you have me at Sam linebacker, you got me out of position.”


It’s hard to believe but Akunne didn’t even start playing linebacker until his senior year of high school; he played offensive line until then. Depressingly, his career was over.  Akunne also said he was “okay with it; I was sort of burnt out at that moment.”

Football may be over for him, but that was just the end of a small chapter of his journey.

Akunne is now in school at Angelo State University in a doctorate of physical therapy program. He will earn his degree in May of next year. His long-term goal is to own his own sports gym or clinic near Dallas.

Akunne’s story is intriguing and the impact that he has on others is mesmerizing.

In a little over a year, Dr. Akunne will have a powerful impact in the sports and physical therapy industry.


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