Football wasn’t always the plan for Tigers’ Orhorhoro
By Alex Maminakis
CLEMSON — His full name is Oghenerukevwe Orhorhoro — his first name meaning, “God has done so much for me.”
To his Clemson teammates and coaches, he’s known as Ruke.
Orhorhoro — pronounced “Oh-row-row-row” — was born in Lagos, Nigeria, and moved to the United States when he was 9 years old, but football didn’t enter his life until late in high school.
Attending high school in River Rouge, Mich., just outside of Detroit, he was serious about basketball and thought he had a bright future on the court. That is, until he got a bit older.
“I thought I was going to play basketball for the rest of my life, because in eighth grade I was always the tallest kid, and then when tenth grade came, there were point guards that are my size,” he recalled. “So I was like, ‘I can’t go to the NBA being a 6-5 power forward or center.’ So I had to come to the realization that I had to figure out something else to do.”
One of Orhorhoro’s motivations to earn a chance to play sports at the next level was his family — he’s the youngest of six siblings, and he didn’t want to add the burden on his parents of having to pay for his higher education, too.
So after his school’s basketball team lost in the state championship game in his sophomore season in high school, Orhorhoro got in contact with River Rouge’s football coach, Corey Parker, and decided to try out for football that spring.
It took an adjustment period, but things began to quickly take shape.
“I didn’t know what I was doing,” Orhorhoro said. “I just went out there and played a lot of positions, actually — they switched me from wide receiver to tight end to linebacker. And I was just getting heavier and bigger and bigger, lifting weights, and I eventually somehow ended up on the D-line, and it just went up from there.”
Orhorhoro didn’t play his first football game until the fall season of 2017. Three games into that season, he received his first collegiate offer from Toledo.
After that, the attention started to grow, including offers from nearby Michigan and Michigan State — all for a high school junior who was brand new to football.
“After my first summer playing football, I knew that was my calling,” he said. “God has mysterious ways of revealing himself to people, and I started developing love for the game and working harder and harder. To be here (at Clemson) is just a blessing.”
Orhorhoro said Clemson became “a dream school” of his as he grew up playing with the Tigers on the NCAA college football video game with his brothers.
So when Clemson began recruiting him, it was almost a no-brainer where he wanted to go.
“I was just on my phone one day and (defensive coordinator Brent Venables) followed me on Twitter, and I kept trying to follow him but I guess his Twitter was private, so he didn’t know how to accept it,” Orhorhoro said. “So he reached out to me and we talked, and they offered me over the phone. And to show how serious I was, I came down here in probably like two weeks, and ever since then, it’s just been sky’s the limit.”
Orhorhoro committed to Clemson on June 15, 2018, and enrolled seven months later this past January after one of the Tigers’ most decorated defensive lines ever helped them win a second national championship in three years.
Since coming to Clemson, Orhorhoro has moved inside to defensive tackle and grown to 293 pounds. He’s played in five games this season, and he had a career-high two tackles with his first tackle for loss in last weekend’s win over Wofford.
“He’s a heavy-handed, twitchy, athletic, big guy that plays with a lot of passion, and that’s fun to watch, easy to coach,” Venables said. “He’s barely played football, so he’s young — just turned 18 not long ago — and so he’s a really, really young one. Sky’s the limit for Ruke.”
The transition from defensive end to tackle has been a bit of an adjustment, but for a young player who, in a matter of months, went from being a brand-new football player to earning college scholarship offers, Orhorhoro knows a bit about handling change.
“I’ve grown in every aspect, honestly,” he said. “My game has gotten better.”
“I like Ruke,” head coach Dabo Swinney said. “I think he’s got a chance to be a really good player. He’s still got a lot of developing to do, but he’s got natural stuff. Some of the things he has, you just can’t coach.
“But he’s got to learn the game. So it’s just a daily process, but we’ll look up four years from now and be like, ‘Wow, look how far this guy’s come.’ If he’ll stay with it, he’s got the tools to make it.”
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