By Terrin Waack | Falcons Digital Team Reporter
FLOWERY BRANCH, Georgia — Out of the more than 330 players and coaches representing 70-plus nations and territories in this season’s NFL Heritage Program, only one can claim Zimbabwe.
That is Atlanta Falcons linebacker Nate Landman.
“I have a bunch of Zimbabwe supporters that are in the U.S. and Africa as well,” Landman said. “So, it means a lot to be able to represent where I was born and where my family is from, where my (extended) family still lives to this day.”
The initiative spans Weeks 7 and 8 across the league.
Landman’s helmet donned stickers of the Zimbabwean and American flags in the Falcons’ 16-13 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last Sunday in Florida and will again this Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS) when Atlanta plays the Tennessee Titans in Nashville.
Landman may be the only NFL player with Zimbabwe origins right now, but he is not the first.
That honor goes to former defensive end Stansly Maponga.
“For me, making it to the NFL was a dream of mine,” Maponga said.
“But mostly, just coming from Zimbabwe, I wanted to take care of my family. Then, out of nowhere, knowing that I would be the first, it’s still kind of surprising. You just try to take it in and try to see how I can give back.
“I can show the kids back home that if I can do it, you guys can do it, too. It’s all a mindset. Then, on top of that, if you’re doing it for the right reasons – to take care of your family – trust me, it’ll all work out and you can do it, too.”
Oddly enough, Maponga also played for the Falcons, from 2013-14. Atlanta drafted him with a fifth-round pick out of TCU. He appeared in 24 games and totaled eight tackles. He also had a sack and two fumble recoveries.
Maponga spent part of 2015 on the Falcons’ practice squad before he was ultimately released and picked up by the New York Giants. He remained there, mainly on the practice squad, until 2017. Then, he was on the Dallas Cowboys’ and Denver Broncos’ practice squads.
“It’s crazy that there has only been two, but also not crazy,” Landman said. “Because a lot of people do stay in Zimbabwe. It’s hard to get over to the United States.
“Super blessed for the opportunity, but (it’s a) pretty small world that we both have played for the Falcons.”
They’re also both from Zimbabwe’s capital city of Harare.
Landman moved to America with his entire family – both parents and three siblings – in 2002, when he was 3 years old.
Maponga immigrated in 2003 at age 12. Actually on his birthday.
His mother and youngest brother had already been stateside. He came later with another brother, who’s just 2 years younger. His older sister went to school in London instead, and his older brother stayed in Zimbabwe for work. His father also remained back.
“We were the first generation of pretty much the Mapongas to be here,” he said.
Same with the Landmans.
Landman became an official United States citizen when he was 20 years old. Maponga did at 23.
Both families ultimately made the jump from Zimbabwe to America in hopes of providing the children with better growth opportunities. One son in each made it to the NFL.
“It is so awesome just to have another Zimbabwean doing great things and being able to shed some light on the country,” Maponga said. “This shows that we do have greatness. We just need to continue to focus, no matter what’s going on around us. …
“I’m happy that Nate is doing it. With all his accomplishments right now, I can only support him to keep going.”