Believe it or not, I started my football career as a kicker.
I know, I know. When you look at me, you probably would have guessed more of a Quarterback, but sometimes you can’t jump to conclusions.
When my family first moved over from Nigeria in 2010, soccer was the only sport I had ever known. So naturally, when I was first introduced to football at my high school in Detroit at the age of 14, I gravitated to the one position where I could use my feet.
But the real reason we moved here wasn’t for football. Originally, my family moved here for the same reason most people immigrate to the United States: a better life and the American Dream.
My father had arrived before us because he had friends in Michigan who could offer him a job, so he wanted to settle in before bringing us across. Once he put some roots down, my mother and the rest of us followed his lead, settling right outside of Detroit.
Although Detroit was far from my town in Africa, somehow it felt like home. The community I was raised in had obvious differences, but there was one thing that tied everyone together.
So as I started high school, my high school coach, Coach Williams, suggested I try out for the team.
Even though I didn’t understand the game right away, I loved the feeling of being part of the group. And by the end of my first year, I found my position on the team too.
Shortly after my move to offensive line, I found out something really important as well. If I got really good at football, there would be an opportunity for a free education.
For me, this didn’t quite process immediately.
You can get a free education for playing…….a game?
My mother had always taught me that education was the key to moving up in life, so the idea that I could do that for free was amazing. And not only that, it was because of football!
So hearing this, I put all of my efforts into earning a scholarship.
Going to a few camps and with the help of Coach Williams, I began to receive attention from programs across the country. But with this attention, I wanted to be sure I would find the opportunity that would help me become the man I wanted and help me reach my dream.
It was around this time that I heard of Western Michigan University for the first time.
Coach called me into his office, informing me that there was a Coach Reynolds calling from Western Michigan, and he wanted to talk about me coming on campus. Knowing nothing of the program, I figured this could be as good as any to find an opportunity.
After the quick conversation, I made plans to make the 2-hour drive up to Kalamazoo for their Junior day and to see if this was a place I could call home.
And as soon as I stepped on campus that Spring, I knew it was exactly that.
The reason I chose Western Michigan over other top universities wasn’t for a specific coach, the promise of playing time, or their facilities. No, for me, it was the community of the program and the education that came along with it.
Too often, you hear about players who commit to universities for all of the wrong reasons, whether it be the flashy new facilities or the promise of a coach, but find that the excitement quickly wears off.
That’s why from Day 1, I made sure I was committing for all of the right reasons and with a mentality that focused on my long-term goals.
And as a result, I’ve never looked back.
Now, as my career has progressed and our team has achieved amazing goals, I feel like I am living my dream every day with the memories I’m creating. With a free education and the ability to be surrounded by amazing players and coaches, I couldn’t have dreamt of a better situation.
I’ve also seen throughout my entire life the sacrifices that my Dad made so that our family can live a better life, so I want to follow his path and continue to advance what’s possible for us.
Whatever my future may hold, whether it be a professional career in a boardroom or on the field, my dream is to give my family the life they couldn’t have dreamt of before.
So for those of you out there trying to help give your family a better life, just know that even when there may not be a clear path, if you continue to work hard and make decisions for your future for all the right reasons, anything is possible.
All it takes is a dream.
Chukwuma Okorafor | Contributor