By Robby Hamman
Big12 Campus Correspondent
He stands 6’3, weighs 289 pounds and combines great footwork, speed and strength. Yes, Chuka Ndulue is your prototypical defensive end at one of the top football programs in the country. Football was always Ndulue’s first love, except probably not the football you’re thinking of.
“Soccer was my first love and it still is,” Ndulue said.
Ndulue was born in Nigeria, the African nation which sits along the coast of the Gulf of Guinea. The country, with a population of over 170 million, has a love for the game unmatched in the United States.
“I’ve been playing soccer for as long as I can remember,” Ndulue explained. “I grew up in a country where American football wasn’t much of a thing and soccer was the No. 1 sport. Uncles, aunts, cousins, everyone just had a passion for soccer. It’s passed down from generation to generation. It was something my family did and I just joined along with my family.
“I started playing soccer seriously in third grade. When I was in Nigeria we played in school, we played pick-up games, we had a club team, all the way up until I went to boarding school.”
Most people would guess that Ndulue, now the massive defensive stalwart on OU’s front three, would have played a punishing defensive midfielder or center back defender position but, as one quickly finds out, Ndulue is full of surprises.
“I was a striker back when I was under 100 pounds,” said Ndulue. “I was a forward. I could move.”
Things started to change for Ndulue when he moved to the United States, including his life as an athlete. The Nigerian native found the U.S. version of football intriguing, especially the physical nature of the game.
“When I first moved here I saw the game of football and thought it looked interesting, since you got to hit people and whatnot,” Ndulue said. “A little part of me likes hitting people so it attracted me to the game.”
Despite the interest in the sport, it took Ndulue two years upon arrival in the United States to give the game a try. After settling in to his new surroundings and adjusting to his new life, Ndulue got his first taste of the sport as a high school freshman at Dallas Jesuit Prep, where head coach Bob Wunderlick instantly took notice.
“I didn’t play in seventh and eighth grade because I was still trying to transition moving from another country,” Ndulue explained. “When I went to high school I tried it out and remember my high school coach saying, ‘Whatever this kid wants, let’s do it for him. Let’s just make this kid happy and make sure he plays football.’”
In hindsight the decision to play football seems obvious after taking one glance at Ndulue, but surprisingly, Charlie Long, one of his former soccer coaches, also made a strong impact on Ndulue’s decision to focus on football.
“He told me over here American football is held to a higher level than soccer, and I learned that with football you can get your school paid for at more places so that was basically it,” Ndulue said.
With his focus on football, the teenager blossomed into a star. He quickly bulked up and put on weight to fill out his long frame and began to mold into the ideal football body that he has today.
“My dad’s genes kicked in and I gained about 75-80 pounds in about three months and I beefed up,” Ndulue noted. “When that happened I thought, ‘I think I can go somewhere with this.’”
The extra mass greatly helped the prep star who, by the time he graduated, was ranked as the No. 21 defensive end in the country by Rivals.com after recording 50 tackles, 8.0 sacks, 10 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles in his senior season.
Ndulue then signed with OU and continued to learn the game in 2010, redshirting his first year. By his sophomore season Ndulue became a mainstay on the defensive line, earning 10 starts and posting a career-high 5.0 sacks. The defensive end continued to shine last season and looks to play a vital role in OU’s success in the 2014 season.
The Sooner believes his success on the gridiron can be attributed to his upbringing on the pitch.
“Two skills that translate and carryover from soccer to football are footwork and endurance,” Ndulue said. “For a defensive lineman I have pretty good feet and endurance, I could be in there all day long. I get tired, but running around on a pitch for 90 minutes will get you ready for a football game.”