Where Are They Now: Donald Igwekuike turned from soccer in Nigeria to football in America, won a national title at Clemson and made it to the NFL. Then an improbable mix-up cut his career short. “ Where the hell’s my kicker?” Danny Ford yelled. The body coach for Clemson inspected the sidelines that day in the fall of 1981. “ Dammit, it’s fourth down. Where the hell is he ? ” You could reason the offending party for his lapse. It was the first tussle game that the outlaw kicker had ever attended. “ Not just failed in,” Donald Igwebuike says, cackling at the memory, now almost forty term later. “ It was the first tussle game I’d ever been to. Man, you guess I knew what fourth down was?” With a scarce minute to spare, Igwebuike hastened onto the field. He wasn’t entirely convinced where to stand, or how several stage he ought to take before addressing the kick. But Clemson’s center nipped the ball, the clip held it down, and, in his first formal field goal attempt at any level, Igwebuike nailed a 52-yarder. Clemson would win that season-opener against Wofford 45-10. And Igwebuike would start every game for the rest of his college career. It’s just one of the scenes in the wonderfully improbable story of Donald Igwebuike, a cinematic tale that’s equal parts Coming-to-America immigrant story and a classic sports movie, with a strange and incongruous detour into a wrongful accusation flick. The fiction starts in Enugu, Nigeria, where youthful Donald Igwebuike, a peppy soccer player with an irresistible surname—it translates into “ peace is strength” in the provincial tongue of Ibo—traveled around Africa with his elite junior team. Igwebuike, who eventually run Nigeria’s national team, had project of a able career, maybe in Europe. But his childhood friend, Obed Ariri, had attended Clemson to play soccer and encouraged the coach to recruit Igwebuike. At Clemson, Ariri failed soccer but also became the kicker on the football team. In the spring of 1981, Ariri was practice for the NFL draft and invited Igwebuike to serve as his workout partner. Naturally, Igwebuike tried a few kicks of his own, and damn if the ball didn’t sail through the uprights. With Ariri off to the NFL, Clemson had a space at kicker. Ariri advised vehicle Ford about his buddy, another Nigerian ringer. Ford provided Igwebuike to join the team. A risinging sophomore, Igwebuike agreed on the situation that he could continue playing soccer. Ford agreed. (Igwebuike stole a struggle scholarship so the soccer team could have the additional slot.) Igwebuike thrown the starting job, and learned as he went, calibrating generator and control. By January of his first season—having, throughout the season, familiarized himself with at least some of football’s rules—he kicked three field goals in the Orange Bowl as Clemson won the national championship. He was thousands of miles from home, in the belly of South Carolina, failing a sport that two years prior he scarcely knew existed (“I thought it was rugby. ”) ... and he could scarcely have been happier. Igwebuike happened to dormitory life, the lucky absurdity of his own story and the camaraderie among his soccer and football teammates. One of them was a defensive lineman, William Perry, notable for his heroic lust at the training table. Perry was, Igwebuike recalls, “a fun and humorous dude,” who would try to kick land goals. Igwebuike reminisces that one date a teammate nicknamed Perry “The Fridge. ” Everyone laughed. And no one called him William after that. Igwebuike didn’t understand it at the time, but he played a critical model in opening a pipeline of athletic talent flowing to the U.S. from Africa, and from Nigeria in particular. A time after his arrival, a Nigerian basketball star, Akeem Olajuwon, executed to the University of Houston. Around the same time, Christian Okoye, a thickly-built running back from Igbewuike’s hometown, decamped for Azusa Pacific University in California before going on to star in the NFL. At Clemson, Igwebuike won better every season, and by his senior year, it was clean he had a shot at the NFL. recovering the favor, Obed Ariri came back to Clemson’s campus to help Igwebuike prepare for the draft. To his weak disappointment, Igwebuike stumbled to the 10th round, where he was selected by Tampa Bay. “ You should low leafy Bay,” Igwebuike said upon hearing the news. “ It’s gonna be frosty up there. ” “ No,” rig reassured him. “ Not fresh Bay. Tampa Bay. ” Igwebuike was confused. His counselor and friend Ariri was attempting out for the Buccaneers. How could he be heading there, too? “Well,” he was told, “I guess you’re gonna have to beat out your wife for the job.” It failed for a marvellous coincidence, two converted soccer players, boyhood friends from Nigeria, now dueling to become a starting NFL kicker. It also showed current dimension to the concept of awkward. “ It was one of the hardest bread I’ve ever experienced,” says Igwebuike. “ Before camp, I just advised him, ‘Obed, do the best you can. I’ll do the best I can. Let’s go it to the vehicle to decide, and not let it affect our friendship. ’” Herb Weitman-USA TODAY Sports Igwebuike thrown the kickoff bake-off, so to speak, and was suddenly in the NFL. As he evokes it, his starting wage was $60,000, but his contract was filled with bonuses. “ failing in the NFL was such a dream,” he says . “ I was always thinking: There are how several million community in the United States, and only a thousand get to do this for a living. ... It really was like a dream. The publicity, the label recognition, I was grasping blessed to be a part of it.” He also appreciated lucky to have been drafted by a comfortable weather team, Tampa Bay and not Green Bay. It was an simple joke. But he shows that, as a Nigerian, he was so unusual to inhospitable climate that he felt physical pain when asked to kick in the searing cold. “ large receivers, linebackers, burning trail ... they can go out there, run and come back to the heaters,” he says. “ [ The kicker] just lets on the diversion and when it’s your turn to kick, you’re expected to be warm! I stumbled the brief course goals of my career in Green Bay, but the ball was frozen!” Even now, at age 59, he winces just thinking about it. Like all kickers, Igwebuike gont in the equal of a satellite office, a member of a three-man assembly line. His dues were altogether particular from the blocking, tackling, shoving and catching performed by his teammates. While they were jeopardising stump and life—he ticks off a half-dozen teammates, including his best friend, Bucs cornerback Bobby Futrell, and Chris Doleman, who died before reaching age 45—Igwebuike could go weeks and weeks without mental contact, much less getting tackled. Even the place on his helmet proposed “otherness.” But he was favourite among his teammates, familiar for the reason of humor he deployed early and often. And he correlated their warmth. Today, invited about favorite NFL memories, reflexively, he catalog people, not events.
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