The 330-pound jailbait grew up on the added ancillary of the planet. He is still acquirements about activity here, about what’s important in America, and what’s possible. He is answering a catechism about how football helps with this aback he grabs a atramentous pen and begins to draw the moment that fabricated him feel like he belongs.
Danielson Ike consistently basic to escape that added activity in Nigeria, for affidavit that still baffle him. He aloof knew. Knew he basic added than what he saw aback home. He knew this from the beginning, afore he had anytime heard of Kansas City, or Rockhurst Aerial School, or alike the d of American football. And absolutely afore he knew 44 Sweep, the comedy he’s cartoon in advanced of you that absolutely opened up a new apple for him.
At the snap, Ike — arresting EEE-kay — rises from his appropriate accouterment position, affairs to his larboard to be the tailback’s bodyguard. A abettor is tasked with demography the aboriginal defender, and Ike wipes out the second.
“My aboriginal time arena football,” he said. “The feeling, it was like, ‘This appropriate actuality is what I was fabricated to do.’”
The comedy requires fast anxiety and able easily and a abundant hit. Ike is absolute for it. From breeze to block takes beneath than two seconds. No time to think, which is fine, because cerebration comes later, sometimes aback he stays at a bounded adolescence home some 6,000 afar from his parents.
Eight years ago, he was 5-foot-2 and skinny. Four years ago, he went to a affected in his home country to comedy basketball, but he was too asperous for that. He was told about a new action alleged football, and aback then, activity has been a blur. A flight above the Pacific Ocean, afresh three altered schools in Florida, including one acquaintance that was so bad he kept a agenda counting bottomward the canicule until it would end.
Then a flight to Kansas City, afresh Missouri’s aerial academy sports’ administering anatomy authoritative him disqualified to play, afresh commutual two years of aerial academy in one so he could alum on time with his class, and finally, absolutely arena football.
Ike stands 6-foot-6 and can deadlift added than 600 pounds, with active anxiety that acclimated to comedy soccer. He is so big, able and able-bodied that an NFL career seems possible. Alabama offered a scholarship, the aboriginal time that’s happened in drillmaster Tony Severino’s 36 years at Rockhurst. Clemson wants him. Oklahoma. Ohio State. Michigan.
He wants to comedy football. He wants to do so abundant added than comedy football.
“Sometimes I sit in my room, like, ‘How did I get here? What did I do right? What did I do wrong?’” Ike said. “It’s crazy. All these things accept happened, and if I had to explain this position I’m in appropriate now, wow.”
Seven-hundred and fifty kids in a camp, anniversary atrocious for one of aloof 20 spots for a adventitious in the States, and Danielson Ike got the aboriginal one afterwards finishing aftermost in a drill.
“That’s aloof God appropriate there,” he said. “I accept in God. That’s God. Annihilation else.”
Ike grew up in Lagos, the basic of Nigeria and the bigger burghal in Africa. He went to the affected with a dream, aloof 14 years old and growing every day. He had a acceptable activity at home. Two parents who admired him, three beforehand ancestors who set acceptable examples.
Ike was a acceptable student, and he played sports, but he wasn’t decidedly good. He said cipher in his ancestors is athletic. Accepting best in that affected was the aboriginal time he anytime anticipation he adeptness be different.
“I acclimated to be very, actual skinny,” he said. “You won’t accept that. But it’s true.”
Danielson Ike at age 10 in his built-in Nigeria.
But he was consistently thoughtful. Perceptive. Ambitious. Apprenticeship is awful important in that culture, but for some acumen they amount degrees from adopted countries over their own.
Doesn’t amount the specifics, either. Ike said a amount from Coffeyville Community Academy carries the aforementioned accumulation as one from Michigan aback home, and maybe he bought into that. Maybe that’s why he basic to cantankerous the ocean so abominably while his beforehand brothers never cared.
“Staying in Nigeria was not in my plan,” Ike said. “I don’t apperceive why. I aloof had that activity in my spirit.”
All that thinking. His mother is a God-fearing adult who never accursed but had a way of accepting her point above with a simple look. She told him he anticipation too much, told him all his aliment went to his thoughts so there wasn’t annihilation larboard to accomplish him grow.
“Now she looks at me like, ‘How did you go from that to this?’” Ike said.
His father, Emeka, is tall. Six basal four, and strict. Ike absent calculation of how abounding whoopings he took — usually alpha with the words, You charge be actual stupid.
The affliction was aback he blanket some money from his sister. He acquainted bad about it, and approved to put it back. But he got caught, and Emeka hit him so bad that pus was decrepit from his ear for days.
“I adulation my dad, though,” Ike said. “That’s aloof how he is. You apperceive you’re not accepting abroad with anything.”
Ike’s parents basic added for their youngest son, which is why they took him to a affected run by Ejike Ugboaja, a pro basketball amateur from Nigeria. The abstraction is to acquisition Nigerian kids with the athleticism, intelligence and appetite to go to America. About 120 kids accept gone through the affairs so far, accessory colleges from Georgetown to USC.
Danielson Ike (left) architecture over best of his teammates and opponents and has dreams of one day starring in the NFL.
Jill Toyoshiba [email protected]
Ike never anticipation of himself as athletic. But his dad has height, his mom a able build, and by the time he was 14 there were signs he was demography on the best genitalia of both.
But, still. What they accepted was for Ike to accomplishment aftermost in best of the camp’s drills. They could not accept accepted that would be abundant to t the aboriginal atom out of the affected and against the United States.
Ike calls it God. Ugboaja calls it belief.
“I apperceive he’ll do the work,” Ugboaja said. “That’s why he ashore out. He was aggravating to appearance me article different.”
Danielson Ike bare beneath than a year to see some of our country’s worst.
The aboriginal plan was to appear Arlington Country Day Academy in Jacksonville, Fla. Trouble arose there about anon (the academy would eventually aing in January), which set off a domino band of alike worse problems.
Ike was in the U.S. on a Form I-20, which is about a approval through Homeland Security for a adopted aborigine to abstraction here. The forms are affronted to specific schools, so already Ike wasn’t accessory the clandestine academy in Jacksonville, he had to scramble.
He concluded up beneath the affliction of a man in Miami who promised academy and football but affronted out to action article abroad entirely. Ike declared continued canicule at the man’s house, demography some English classes online amid football drills in the morning and afternoon.
Neither Ike nor Tijani Idris, his acknowledged guardian, would name the man. Efforts to adeptness him in Florida failed.
“I don’t appetite to allocution about that,” Ike said. “Some things happened, and I wasn’t blessed actuality there.”
Ike was there with addition kid in Ugboaja’s program. They went to abundant camps that Syracuse, Bowling Green and Temple offered scholarships afore he’d anytime played a down.
Looking back, it’s a admiration he had the energy. He was so sad. The ambit from home, the a from annihilation they’d accepted to acquisition in the States, aloof Ike and one acquaintance activity like captives.
Ike was miserable. He would go to his allowance as aboriginal as accessible afterwards football, sometimes by 5:30 or 6 p.m., aloof to be by himself. He apparent off the canicule on a calendar, counting bottomward to graduation, alike as a freshman.
Idris and Ugboaja were anniversary traveling a lot, and advice was spotty. By the time they knew how bad Ike’s bearings was, they threatened the drillmaster in Miami abundant that Ike briefly abounding Miami Edison, a low-income academy in a heavily Haitian neighborhood.
But that wasn’t acceptable enough, either. If it was so accessible to put him in a absolute school, what took so long?
“They were aloof appliance him for football,” said Idris, who came to the U.S. through Ugboaja’s foundation. “They see these coaches, they think, ‘Maybe we can get a job from this.’ So we’re like, ‘No.’ We took him out.”
Danielson Ike (center, blocking) practices with his Rockhurst Aerial teammates.
Jill Toyoshiba [email protected]
Idris was based in Kansas Burghal by then, a job with a beam aggregation demography him to the Midwest. Best of the kids in Ugboaja’s foundation went to aerial schools forth the East Coast, but Idris absitively to accompany Ike to Kansas City. He was annoyed of the drama.
One of the aboriginal bodies he and Ike met actuality was Myron Piggie.
Danielson Ike saw Piggie the minute he absolved off the alike at Kansas Burghal All-embracing airport three summers ago.
Piggie was there with his brother, Leo Wright, a bounded adolescence basketball coach. They were to drive him to Piggie’s house, area he would stay, a appeal from Idris because he didn’t accept a abode of his own in Kansas Burghal yet.
Ike had no way of alive Piggie’s past, including 37 months in federal bastille for accuse stemming from payments to aerial academy basketball recruits that in about-face defrauded universities in the aboriginal 2000s.
“Nicest kid you’d anytime appetite to meet,” Piggie said of Ike. “I gave him some structure. You get up in the morning, you assignment out, you do some affairs about the house. We never had any issues.”
Ike backward with Piggie’s ancestors for a few weeks. Afresh he went to alive with Wright for the blow of the summer. This allotment of Ike’s adventure is complicated, with the adults about him tugging in altered directions, generally cogent altered stories.
Idris trusted Wright and Piggie in the beginning, but the accord bound turned, to the point that now they don’t alike accede on how they met. Idris said it was on a beam job; Piggie in the parking lot of a Brookside grocery store.
Tammy Ljungblad [email protected]
Idris is a roofer by barter and said Piggie took advantage of him on a job. Piggie said he “never did business with TJ like that” and alleged Idris “ungrateful” because the advice he and Wright gave Ike that aboriginal summer.
Idris said he cut Piggie out afterwards award out about his accomplished — including biologic ambidextrous and a 2014 accusable appeal to possessing baseborn acreage — while Piggie said Idris didn’t do abundant to advice Ike.
“Every time I see him,” Idris said, “It’s like, ‘Oh, we booty affliction of Ike.’ I apperceive bodies who buy actuality for kids like that thinking, ‘Oh, if we get him this now afresh he owes me.’ There’s a lot of actuality that goes on in the States, bodies appliance kids because they’re athletes. That’s what I don’t want.”
Piggie was absolute aback asked about this.
“In the name of Jesus I never anytime anticipation about that,” he said. “When Ike larboard my house, that’s the aftermost time I talked to Ike. I don’t alike accept his buzz number. If I basic money, I’m activity to breach in blow with money, don’t you think?”
Either way, Ike now stays at Boys Achievement Girls Achievement of Kansas City, a home for academically able and at-risk kids. He’s blessed there, stable, and his aftermost four years accept been annihilation if not a appeal to complete quickly. He was let bottomward in Florida and saw added kids in Ugboaja’s foundation alteration universities afterwards activity abject by coaches.
Ike remembers watching a documentary on an NFL brilliant who promised to milk football for aggregate it offered — the money, the fame, the befalling — because he knew football would milk him for aggregate he had. Forth with the year in Florida, that bulletin ashore with Ike: accessory out for yourself, because cipher abroad will.
“Leo is a acceptable man, but his brother puts the adumbration in him, aloof paints him bad,” Ike said. “Leo is additionally a actuality I don’t appetite to assurance because I anticipate he adeptness appear aback and chaw me. I don’t know. I accept that gut activity in me, like, ‘Don’t assurance this dude.’ If you’re activity to assurance him, assurance him halfway. Don’t assurance him completely.
“I’m actual accurate not to acquiesce anybody to chaw me like it did already. I don’t appetite to be in anybody’s debt. I don’t appetite anybody to appear out two years from now and say, ‘I did all of this. All of this happened because I was there.’ No. If anybody can acquaint me that, that would be Ejike and TJ.”
Tony Severino is in his 36th division at Rockhurst. The acclaimed and admired Kansas Burghal football drillmaster had never had a chat absolutely like his aboriginal with Danielson Ike.
“’I don’t appetite to aloof be the best lineman you’ve anytime had here,’” Severino remembered Ike saying. “’I appetite to be the best in the NFL.’”
Severino chuckled aback cogent the story.
“I mean, he aloof skipped over college,” he said.
Even as a sopre, Ike would accept acceptable started on the Rockhurst abhorrent line, but the Missouri Accompaniment Aerial Academy Activities Association would not ablaze him. There was aloof too abundant to array out, amid Nigeria and Florida and aggregate else.
He was told he’d charge to sit out at atomic the 2016 season, with no agreement he’d be able to comedy afterwards that. He had so abundant classwork to accomplish up he was told that he adeptness appetite to reclassify, to booty an added year to accomplishment aerial school. Ike was too aggressive for that. He completed two years of schoolwork in one.
“I wouldn’t say it was easy,” Ike said. “But it wasn’t killing me.”
Ike’s capital addition to that 2016 aggregation was as article of an central antic afore the Shawnee Mission East game. Cipher knew about Ike aback then, so Severino fabricated abiding Ike absolved off the bus first.
“You could see all the East kids go, ‘Whoaaa,’” Severino said. “They didn’t apperceive he couldn’t play. That’s a accurate story.”
He’s arena now, and alike in aloof his additional year of football you can see the potential. His highlight band is gruesome, a alternation of scenes in which he lays out whoever happens to be in advanced of him. Sometimes it’s accessible to balloon that he’s alone alpha to apprentice about football address and how to train.
“He’s the best I’ve apparent aback we’ve been here,” said Bishop Miege drillmaster Jon Holmes, who has won four beeline accompaniment championships and is in his 15th division as an abettor or arch coach. “The athleticism, how big he is, the power. You don’t see that in that admeasurement and age.”
One Division I abettor who has recruited Ike alleged him “my admired lineman in years, not aloof the upside but aloof a agitating kid.” Severino stresses that the absorption on Ike is about his potential, not his accepted skill.
“And there’s so abundant added to him than football,” Severino said. “We’ve had bigger football players here. I’m not abiding we’ve had abounding bigger kids.”
This is a demanding time for Ike. Academy coaches appearance up every week, blame him to accomplish a exact charge he doesn’t feel accessible to make. He has some favorites. Oklahoma. Louisville. Michigan. Iowa State. Alabama is out. Too abounding layers amid players and the arch coach, he said.
A Rockhurst Aerial abettor plays about by spraying baptize on Danielson Ike (bottom right) during a breach in practice.
Jill Toyoshiba [email protected]
Severino has been aggravating to argue Ike to accomplish a exact commitment. As protection, added than annihilation else. Commit about now, so that if you get aching you still accept a abode to land.
Ike didn’t appetite to do that. Didn’t appetite to be addition kid who gives a exact charge on the aboriginal offer, afresh switches a few months later. He’s a man of his word. Wants to aces one school, afresh stick with it.
But now he’s planning visits beforehand than he originally intended, aloof to acceleration up the action and get it over with. Some of this stems from the array of affect that every 18-year-old adventures aback cerebration about college. Alike for Ike — built-in and aloft in Nigeria, a rotten year in Florida abaft him, now blooming in Kansas Burghal — change is stressful.
“Some canicule it absolutely scares me, I’m not activity to lie,” he said. “Like, ‘Oh my God, I’m activity about I apperceive annihilation about.’ I achievement I don’t accept the Miami acquaintance again.”
Ike has begin a home here. Not aloof at Boys Achievement Girls Hope, and not aloof with the football team, but in Kansas City. He apparent an African grocery abundance for aback he wants to accomplish Jollof rice or Egusi soup (fair admonishing — appealing abundant anybody who tries his affable says it’s unfathomably spicy).
He sings in the choir, a admirable accent an octave or two college than you’d apprehend from a man his size. Singing calms him. He does it aback he gets angry, which doesn’t appear as abundant as it acclimated to — aloof abundant to accumulate him affective forward.
“If I feel relaxed, it consistently comes aback to chaw me,” Ike said. “I’m blessed I’m here. I’m about bodies who affliction about me. I would alike say some of them adulation me as a person. So I’m blessed I’m here. I’m comfortable. But I don’t anytime appetite to relax.
“This is aloof a dispatch bean to area I appetite to be, and I don’t appetite to lose that fact. I’m activity about else. This appropriate actuality is not it.”
Danielson Ike hears about The Blindside all the time. The allegory to the acknowledged book and box appointment hit cine about above NFL abhorrent lineman Michael Oher, is aloof too easy. Bodies — including three who talked for this adventure — adduce it constantly.
The description works as a array of awkward shorthand: astronomic jailbait with amazing able-bodied adeptness lives with bodies who aren’t his parents and achieves football success.
But Oher’s adventure has little advantageous appliance here. Ike is nobody’s sequel.
Ike chose this, for starters. He has bare nobody’s encouragement, nobody’s shelter. He wasn’t built-in to an aficionado mom and deadbeat dad. His parents are strong, admiring and admiring (even if Mom cool out a little aback he beatific her a YouTube blow of the NFL’s hardest hits).
Ike has been lucky, in some ways, not aloof because of his accustomed athleticism and parents’ support, but for Ugboaja allotment him at that affected and for award adulation and adherence actuality in Kansas City. But he’s additionally fabricated this his own story.
Ugboaja chose Ike for a reason, afterwards all. It wasn’t his ability, because that came later. It was his determination, and that’s still here. The adults assuredly got out of his way in Florida, and accessory now at the activity he’s architecture for himself — abundant aptitude that every affairs in the country wants him, abundant accuracy and appetite that they’re all affairs him on their business schools.
“It’s funny how abounding schools say they accept No. 1,” Ike said. “I’m like, ‘It’s No. 1? There can alone be one.’”
Ike wants to above in all-embracing business and entrepreneurialism. He’s been to three countries and speaks English, three African languages, additional some French. But he wants to see so abundant more. Wants to acquaintance so abundant more.
He still all-overs his arch at the abstraction that actuality in America he can get a chargeless apprenticeship at the academy of his best aloof for actuality big and strong. And the abstraction that some players are drafted anon into the NFL and accustomed million-dollar contracts? Appear on.
Nigerian civic Danielson Ike is over 6 basal 6 and weighs 335 pounds. Although he’s never played football before, he is actuality recruited by schools like Alabama, Michigan, Ohio Accompaniment and Oklahoma.
Jill Toyoshiba [email protected]
He has affairs for these opportunities. He jokes that sometimes he thinks he’s crazy for the affairs he has, but they won’t leave his mind. He has appear to anticipate of his activity as a book. The aboriginal affiliate was his aboriginal 14 years in Nigeria. The additional is accident now, and will abide for the aing decade or so.
After that, who knows?
“Football is article that can get me to area I’m going,” Ike said. “That’s all it is to me. I’m not one of those guys who say they would annihilate for football, they can’t do annihilation after football. I adulation football, don’t get me wrong. I adulation football. But I can do so abounding things after football.”
Ike talked in actuality three times for this story, and the layers are so abundant and complicated it’s still adamantine to apperceive how to acquaint it best.
He has every acumen to be angry, for the way he was advised in Florida, and for some bureaucrats authoritative him sit out his aboriginal year actuality in Kansas City. He has every acumen to be cynical, because he has already been advised like a commodity, already been the aimless accountable of a adeptness struggle, already been apparent how football chews up the naive.
Ike is none of those things, somehow. His eyes are bright, his handshake firm, his focus unwavering. Once, he was asked what he hoped would be the bulletin from this story.
“People are different,” he said. “Some bodies absolutely appetite this, and some bodies don’t. I apperceive what this can do for me. I apperceive what this befalling can do for me. Some bodies think, ‘Oh, I’m in the States, I’m OK. I’m good.’
“I appetite bodies to apperceive that I don’t plan to decay this opportunity. I’m not the archetypal amateur they know, that’s like, ‘Yeah, I’m acceptable at football.’ I appetite to use football to go to school. I appetite to go to the (NFL). Accomplish a path.
“I appetite bodies to apperceive I’m activity to booty advantage of every distinct chance. That’s what I want.”
Sam Mellinger is a Kansas Burghal Brilliant sports columnist.
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