WMU’s Chukwuma Okorafor doesn’t let late start to football slow him down


By the time he committed to Western Michigan in the spring of 2013, Chukwuma Okorafor was piling up plaudits and offers from Power 5 schools thanks to his play as an offensive lineman for Southfield (Mich.) High.

The attention he was generating was all the more impressive considering that he and his family immigrated to the United States from the Republic of Botswana in 2010.

Ohio-WMU-game-factsIn fact, football was not even a thought until Okorafor was approached in high school.

“One day during gym class at Southfield High the coach came up to me and asked me if I wanted to try out for the team,” said Okorafor. “So, I said, ‘Yeah, why not?’”

A soccer player throughout his youth in Botswana, Okorafor found himself playing football as a high school sophomore. First he was a kicker before moving to the offensive line where he ultimately got the radar of the likes of Oklahoma and Florida.

In January 2014, following his senior season, the Detroit Free Press rated “Chukes” the 29th best player in Michigan and the state’s sixth-best offensive lineman. He was part of a landmark class for coach P.J. Fleck and WMU in that it was the highest rated in Mid-American Conference history.

Wasting no time, Okorafor saw action in a reserve role in Western Michigan’s opener at Purdue last season.

“What I remember about my first game in college is where I came from and what it took for me to get there,” said Okorafor, who was only 17 at the time of his collegiate debut. “It was pretty much about being able to go out there and prove to people who did not think that I could do it.”

Okorafor is accustomed to being a couple of years younger than most everybody else in his class. But as the saying goes, age is just a number.

“There have never been any issues for me and I do not think about my age when I am out there playing,” said the 6-6, 308-pounder.

After appearing in all 12 games as a backup last season, Okorafor was the starting right tackle coming out of spring drills this year. He has started each of the Broncos’ five games so far this season and continues to develop his skills.

“It is not about me in any type of way,” he said when asked about achieving the starting role. “It is about the team and helping it be successful. I feel like being able to play at my best will help achieve that.”

When asked about his play through his first five games Okorafor’s response was pretty much along the same lines.

“You can never be satisfied with the way you are right now,” he said. “There is always more to do on the field and I am trying to make myself a better player.”

Okorafor, whose parents moved to the States in search of a better life for the family, is endeavoring to make himself better away from the gridiron as well. The business major would like to become a company CEO someday after leaving Western Michigan.

Alas, he is still just a teenager and working to improve his game and that of the Broncos will suffice for now.

“All we think about is giving our best on a daily basis,” he said. “We pretty much just focus on the process, meeting the challenges every day and doing our best game in and game out.”

Giving his best is certainly something Okorafor has aced during his brief time in the U.S.

Above: Chukwuma Okorafor quickly made an impact in a sport he learned only after coming to the U.S. from Botswana in 2010. (Courtesy Western Michigan Athletics)
Tom Layberger

Tom Layberger

Tom Layberger is a freelance writer based in Glen Mills, Pa.