Saturday, June 21, 2014 5:27 PM
Clemson pursuing elite lineman that has yet to play in a game
by David Hood
Senior Writer

Chidi Valentine-Okee stands out in any crowd because of his size, but his recent workouts at several combines and camps have him standing out on the football field.

Included in his list of camp visits is Clemson, where he made the trek late last week with teammates from Hialeah (FL) Champagnat Catholic, and he was a standout during one session of offensive line drills. Okeke (his name is pronounced Cha-dee O-kee-kee) now stands as one of top offensive linemen for the 2016 recruiting cycle, and what makes his story even more amazing is that he has yet to play a down of organized football in an actual game after moving to the United States from Nigeria last August.

The 6-6, 307-pounder told TigerNet Friday afternoon that he grew up playing soccer and basketball, but coaches at one camp told him he might want to try football. He looked up the sport on YouTube, and made the decision to not only improve his educational opportunities but maybe earn a way into college.

“I grew up playing a lot of basketball. I was a basketball player and I played soccer,” Okeke said. “In Nigeria, there was this one football and basketball camp that they do every year. One of the coaches saw me playing basketball, but he told me about football and told me about the game. From there, I kept on watching football on YouTube and ESPN and watching and learning about the game. I would watch on YouTube and learn, and from there a foundation found a school for me to play football in America.”

Okeke didn’t arrive in time to take part in Champagnat’s state championship season – he was held out – but practiced with the team and went through spring practice, and his work ethic and skill began to open eyes. Once he started the camp circuit, the offers started pouring in, including one from Clemson back in mid-May.

“The coaches have really helped me a lot,” Okeke said. “But I am very focused on this, because I know this is a good way for me to get an education. So I can put all of my mind and all my power into playing football. I feel like I can learn very fast, and getting an education is the reason I am here.”

Okeke worked out with the offensive linemen during one of Saturday’s sessions and said he got a good feel for offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell.

“He told me that I did really good in the drills,” Okeke said. “He told me that I was the best one during the drills, and it was good to see how he coaches.”

Okeke also said he took a message from head coach Dabo Swinney to heart.

“I really loved going to Clemson,” he said. “All of the coaches were nice, and so were all of the players. But the head coach was talking about how they would help players get their college degree, and that is most important thing to me. They also said that they would help me be a better person and that also meant a lot to me. I loved everything about Clemson.”

Okeke said he hopes to make it back to Clemson for a game this fall. He currently has offers from Clemson, Alabama, Auburn, Florida St., LSU, Miami (FL) and others.

David Hood can be reached at davidhood@tigernet.com