Nigerian-born athlete finds his way as offensive lineman

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Photo Courtesy UM Athletics

Photo Courtesy UM Athletics

 

Sunny Odogwu is hard to miss. His six-foot-eight frame towers over those he faces both on and off the football field.

But his is an unusual story. He was born and raised in a tiny urban village in Nigeria, though to Odogwu, the term “urban” is applied loosely.

“It’s kind of not the best place to live and raise a child,” said Odogwu, a freshman.

He comes from an underprivileged family and is no stranger to working to get what he needs.

“Throughout my life I’ve always worked for whatever I’ve had, you know, food, whatever it is, water, clothes, everything,” he said. “It makes you have the mindset of ‘don’t stop – never stop,’ you know?”

His freshman year of high school, however, Odogwu got the opportunity to attend a basketball camp in Nigeria. It was an opportunity that would change the trajectory of his sporting career.

“It’s an NBA camp for high school players,” he said. “The high school coaches said, ‘you know you can have the opportunity to play basketball and get a good education in America’ … then they talked to my parents and from there I came to America, played basketball and went to school.”

Odogwu was 15 years old when he came to the United States without his parents.

“I came alone,” he explained. “I don’t think my parents can afford to come to USA.”

When he first got here Odogwu lived with the Nelms family in Georgia. He lived with them for one year and attended a Christian high school.

“I call them my parents now,” he said. “They took me in like their own son, actually they became my parents. I love them, they love me and we built a relationship.”

Odogwu transitioned from basketball to football when his high school coaches suggested that he try another sport.

“I played football, and I liked it, a lot. It was fun,” he said.

Though it wasn’t this way at first, Odogwu says he enjoys football more than basketball. He joined the Canes as an offensive lineman.

“It’s a kind of lifestyle that my body, my self is trying to live. I can’t help it,” he said. “I like the way the game is being played, it’s amazing.”

Before coming to the University of Miami, he attended a military academy where he also played football. Odogwu visited other schools, but he says that when he came to visit UM, he felt that he had found his home.

“So I was like, ‘You know I’m gonna jump in the band, I wanna be a Hurricane, you know, I wanna be a Miami Hurricane,’” he said. “It’s the thing that you have the feeling inside your gut that this is where you belong.”

He has taken that passion that he felt for the university when he was a recruit and put it into his work on the football field. Offensive coordinator James Coley has seen Odogwu grow since his first day on the team.

“We were breaking the ice with him with football,” Coley said. “As every day’s gone by he’s playing faster because he’s understanding the game better and he’s understanding his assignments better.”

Coley also saw Odogwu’s progress in becoming acclimated with the culture of the university.

“It’s tough for anyone to start college and come in as a freshman. He’s coming in and trying to learn a new language and the customs of our country and the different dialects that we have here on campus,” Coley said. “And it makes things difficult,  but he’s a student of life and he loves being down here. He’s one person that I know that appreciates living.”

Miami teammates like offensive lineman Taylor Gadbois agree that Odogwu’s positive attitude and sunny disposition make him a strong competitor.

“He’s a good teammate,” Gadbois said. “He wants to learn, he wants to listen to what you have to say.”

Odogwu is grateful for all of the opportunities he’s had so far.

“It’s crazy, you know, thinking about how far I’ve gone in life and what’s still ahead of me,” he said.

Though Odogwu has come a long way, he continues to chase success every day.

“He’s a guy who’s always fought through adversity, and he understands one thing: Every day he has an opportunity to succeed. And that’s all he asks for, and that’s the beauty behind Sunny,” Coley said.

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