Note: The following appears in the North Carolina football gameday program.
Ruke Orhorhoro is certainly not the typical football love story. He had quite the unconventional path to the game, having not even played the sport until his junior year of high school. Nonetheless, the game still found him.
Orhorhoro is a native of Nigeria, where he lived until he was nine. While he was very young during his childhood days living in Africa, Orhorhoro is proud of his roots and believes that the different perspective of living in such a unique country has made him a more well-rounded person.
“I was young when I moved from Nigeria, but being from a different country has helped me as a man, because it allowed me to have different perspectives on the world. It’s important to have those kinds of perspectives to see how people live in other parts of the world.”
When he and his family moved to the United States, they settled in Michigan, where he eventually learned the game of football. Before then, it was actually basketball that was Orhorhoro’s primary sport. But once he put on his football cleats for the first time, there was no turning back. One of the biggest aspects that stuck out to him about football was the brotherhood nature of the sport.
“I love the team aspect of football. I know basketball is also a team sport, but football is a sport where one guy can’t win the game. You can’t really play offense and defense at the same time. You have to play as a collective unit. Eleven guys have to be on the same page for offense, defense and special teams.”
He stuck with basketball through his junior year of high school, but a stellar first season on the gridiron during his junior year led to him hanging up his basketball shoes before his senior year.
“I realized this was the sport for me when I had my first two-sack game. That was when it all clicked, and I knew I could actually do this. At that point, I fell in love with football.”
From then on, Orhorhoro was increasingly recruited by universities around the country. Nonetheless, he was determined to select a school that was the right fit for him, both from an academic and athletic standpoint. It did not take long before he found that Clemson was the answer.
“When I got my first offer from Clemson, I did not even know where it was. When I decided to drive down here with my coaches, I immediately fell in love with it. With the people, the atmosphere and being in the south, I fell in love with everything about it.”
From moving away from Nigeria to trying football at a later age, Orhorhoro is no stranger to acclimating to new and challenging environments. The transition from high school to college football was no different. More specifically, Orhorhoro’s biggest challenge was moving away from the defensive end position he had become accustomed to.
“I was recruited to play defensive end, and then I moved over to defensive tackle. I thought it would be an easy transition, but it wasn’t. The physicality and speed were different. You’re closer to the ball, so everything happens so fast. That was when I really knew I wasn’t in high school anymore. The biggest part for me was shifting my mindset, because I knew the physical aspect would come with hard work.”
His hard work has certainly paid off over the years, as he has gone from a three-star prospect in high school to a now essential starter and leader on Clemson’s defensive line. He has checked off just about every box throughout his college career as far as experience goes. Of course, there is one moment that stands out to him the most.
“Playing in the national championship game in 2019 is by far my favorite memory. I had not played that many snaps, but I’ll never forget when Coach (Dabo) Swinney and Coach (Todd) Bates grabbed my jersey and said to go in the game. I’ll never forget the nervousness and excitement at that moment. I remember lining up, looking at the jumbotron and taking it all in. It was surreal.”
Over the years, #33 has found a lot to love about Clemson, and it goes well beyond football. He has been able to form connections and build relationships that will last a lifetime.
“The people here at Clemson are special. I’ll cherish the relationships I’ve made with my teammates for the rest of my life. Home is where family is, and it feels like home here, because I have my family and my brothers, guys like Jalyn Phillips, Sheridan Jones, Taisun Phommachanh, Joseph Ngata, Andrew Booth Jr., Frank Ladson Jr. and so many more. I’m blessed to have them.”
Orhorhoro has excelled this season thanks to the hard work and dedication he puts towards his craft each week. He has been a consistent impact playmaker and has continued to put up strong numbers for sacks and tackles for loss. Orhorhoro has always been a team player and remains focused on the season at hand, but his aspirations in football go even beyond his time in Tigertown.
“God-willing, I’d love to make it to the NFL. I want to continue to stay healthy and have as long a football career as I can. After that, I’d love to be a coach in this game. I’ll continue to pursue my dreams and go wherever God takes me.”
Orhorhoro is forever grateful that he decided to play football despite already being halfway through high school. It is a decision that changed his life, and it has become his biggest passion.
“God blessed me with the talent and the ability to play football. He allowed me to chase this dream, and I am so grateful for that.”