Later this summer, Pittsburgh Steelers tackle Chukwuma Okorafor is going to be competing for a starting job on the right side of the offensive line. But even if he wins the spot, it may not be his greatest achievement of 2019, because earlier this week, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States.
Okorafor and his family emigrated to the US from Botswana in 2010, where he first encountered the game of American football on a serious level. Having been born in Nigeria and raised in South Africa, the sport with which he grew up was the other football, what we know as soccer. So the first position he played on a football field was actually kicker.
As he pursued his newfound dream of professional football, however, his father had a plan for his entire family to become US citizens, and for Okorafor, that dream wad made reality during a United States Nationalization ceremony at the Heinz History Center.
“It’s always been my dream and a dream for my family to do this and call ourselves U.S. citizens”, he told the team’s website. “We have so many more rights because of it, including the right to vote. It makes me feel more comfortable here, safer here. This was important for us”.
There’s a lot of subtext that I can dig into with respect to his comments about feeling safer as a naturalized citizen, but I’ll leave it alone without further comment beyond noting it.
“I am prouder of my mom and dad for how much work they have done, moving from another country, getting us a better life”, he said. “Getting us in different places, different schools, better places and better schools, and now being a U.S. citizen”.
The place that his parents were ultimately able to get him to was Western Michigan, where he was a three-year starter at both right and left tackle. He performed well enough, in spite of the fact that he was still learning not just the position but the game, to get him drafted by the Steelers in the third round last year.
After Jerald Hawkins suffered an injury in OTAs, Okorafor became the frontrunner to assume the role of swing tackle, and he did serve in that role all year, but when Marcus Gilbert was injured for an extended period of time, the coaching staff elected to allow Matt Feiler to start instead due to his experience.
With Gilbert being traded, Okorafor, Feiler, and Hawkins will all compete for the vacated starting right tackle job. Okorafor did make one start there last season when Feiler was dealing with an injury as well, but the team also gave him a lot of help. He’ll have to show he can handle it full-time on his own if he is going to earn that job.