Chidi Okeke is not only new to football, he’s new to LSU.
Add the United States of America, the English language and head coaches that chew on blades of grass to that equation as well.
Yet the LSU offensive lineman coming off a redshirt season has caught the attention of Les Miles for all of the right reasons.
The 6-foot-6, 311-pound rising redshirt freshman has been a spectacle to watch during the Tigers’ spring practice sessions early on, but perhaps more importantly, his progress has signaled perseverance that falls under the label of the “true” American dream.
“I think American people are people that have a bunch of different looks and necessarily they sound different, and they bring their goals and aspirations and their skills to bare,” Miles said on Thursday.
“They’re here to make the country greater, and I think he (Okeke) is doing that. He’s a good student. He does a good job academically. He’s never been on a list for being list or not prepared. If everybody that was involved in immigration was as productive as this guy was as he entered the country, I think we’d all be for more liberal immigration.”
Okeke’s story starts in Anambra, Nigeria and continued in 2013 when he arrived in the United States.
The sizeable youngster began to play football then, too, starting his career in Florida before transferring to Atlanta, Ga.
Okeke lived in a halfway house with other Nigerian players, where he began to assimilate to the American culture he’s embodying today.
“They did a great job of translating what has allowed him to be comfortable in his environment,” Miles explained. “There was a group of 10 to 12 guys that lived in Atlanta in the house. It was a business professor in Miami (Ohio) University that did all of the paperwork and advisement.
“(Okeke) is a pretty special guy that lived across an ocean by a language barrier. To learn the game — that’s certainly not normal to anybody there’s nothing to compare that with. When you think of some of the things that have gone on politically in that country, you wonder how a guy can put the distractions behind him to play.”
But football has been Okeke’s source of motivation.
As he prepares for his first full season as a player on the LSU roster, he has stood out early on and is making a name for himself in the process.
Okeke may be a year away from truly competing for a starting spot along the Tigers’ offensive line, but that has not stopped his coach from raining praise on the Nigeria native throughout the spring.
“He continues to make plays,” Miles said. “He has really exceptionally quick feet. He comes off the football at a real rapid rate, and as opposed to being a wash with so much information, he has really taken the information he’s getting and playing it the best he can.”
“He continues to improve every period,” he added. “I’m excited about him. I think he’ll be ready to play a lot of football next year.”
Another year means more time for Okeke to not only better comprehend LSU’s offense and the game of football overall, but another year to entrench himself in even more American culture.
That has opened a door for Miles, who is as unique as any coach in college football or sports as a whole, and realizes what’s at stake with one of his more impressionable players.
“I think I’m part of the experience,” Miles admitted. “There’s authority, there’s fatherly and there’s team here. You join the team and put (that) in front of your own desires. I talk to him every day specifically. He’s a pretty special guy.”