Chuka’s First Love

DE Ndulue excels on gridiron after growing up on the field.

In 2000, Oklahoma defensive lineman Chuka Ndulue didn’t know there were two forms of football in the sporting world. In his home country of Nigeria, he only knew about futbol – or soccer.

When he moved to Dallas in 2004, he still played soccer but not football. That was until he watched his first game on television.

Ndulue remembers watching Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu lock on to an offensive player and lower a hit he’d never seen on the soccer field.

“It looked like it hurt,” Ndulue said with a growing smile. “I thought, ‘I like hitting people, maybe I want to try that.’”

Ndulue didn’t start playing organized football until his junior year at Dallas Jesuit Prep because his mom wouldn’t allow it. He wasn’t doing well in American History, having just moved to the country a year ago.

He got his grades up and came out to play – although in the wrong position.

At first, he played wide receiver and linebacker. His original athletic love, which he still plays every Tuesday, shined through again – but not for the better.

Actually until just recently, Ndulue tried to catch a football with his palms. Every time, he’d hear a loud thwack and the ball would fall to the turf. He didn’t know what he was doing wrong, that was how goalie’s in soccer stopped shots.

Instead of playing, Ndulue went to the weight room, and with some help from his dad’s athletic gene, Ndulue said he grew from 150 to 205 pounds in just three months.

He was moved to the defensive line. Everything was coming together.

“All of a sudden, everything just started making sense,” said Ndulue, who didn’t understand the grandeur of college football until the end of his junior season. “Coach put me in a simpler position, which was d-lineman. I started grasping it one by one.”

Football has definitely grown on him. He was a three-star recruit out of Dallas and will be counted on to be an impactful and diverse starter in his redshirt senior season.

He has become a master of the sport of sorts – a master of his new craft.

“Chuka is a technician,” Oklahoma middle linebacker Dominique Alexander said. “He’ll never let guys up to you. He’ll hold two for you all day just to you can get over the top. … I don’t know how he got that technic, but whatever he’s doing is working.”

Still, Ndulue’s first love will always be soccer. He still heads out for pick-up games in his full Arsenal kit Tuesdays, where he shows off his ability in the air but doesn’t play much defense.

When Oklahoma received its new jerseys, Ndulue was there, but he was watching the U.S.-Belgium game on his phone. He didn’t miss a game of this year’s World Cup.

He records the Barclays Premier League games on Saturdays, when he usually has more important things to do, but he doesn’t buy in to the hype that soccer is fully catching on in the United States.

Not until people started ruining his recorded games, at least.

"When people start doing that, then I'll fall for the hype," he said.

Despite growing up in Nigeria, Ndulue isn’t a fan of the Super Eagles – the Nigerian national team. Instead, he has always loved Brazil.

He grew up watching Roberto Carlos, Ronaldinho, Kafu and the original Ronaldo. He wept under the stairway in his home when Brazil lost to France in 1998. He refused to eat dinner.

When Brazil lost this year to Germany in the World Cup, his heart as a defender hurt as he watched his favorite team allow seven goals in a semifinals defeat. He sat for almost an hour in shock and despair, reliving his boyhood nightmare.

“Except this time, it was worse,” Ndulue said.

They’ll be some consolation this season, as his new team in his new football is poised for a deep run – possibly into the 4-team playoff. Ndulule is doing things on the football field he never did on the soccer pitch as a boy.

“It's just a dream that I never knew that I had but it's coming true,” Ndulue said. “It's been a fun experience and I'm going to miss it when it's all said and done.”

Sooners Illustrated Top Stories