Bob Kesling, Voice of the Vols, is on the case. He’ll find out for sure how to pronounce Chris Akporoghene’s last name, just in case the large young man becomes a Volunteer next year.
At this stage in the process, I don’t know why but I think it sounds like Ak-po-ro-kay.
Akporoghene holds a football scholarship offer from Tennessee, one of many, from Yale to Oregon and in between. He is an offensive tackle, 6-5 and 285, from Warri, Delta State, Nigeria. He is currently doing growth and development at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
He is a strong student with a warm personality and, apparently, awesome potential. Rating services may soon award a fourth star.
In the recruiting race, the Volunteers are behind but have a connection and might have a “home” advantage.
UT assistant coach Chris Weinke was the main man at IMG on his way up the ladder. He knows some people.
Akporoghene played as a sophomore and junior at The King’s Academy in Seymour. Matt Lowe was his coach and unofficial guardian. Matt’s parents, the Doug Lowes, Powell people, provided his weekend and holiday home off campus.
Matt taught him almost everything he knows about football.
“It was a privilege. I remembered that someone once had to teach me.”
Lowe, former Powell High coach who has returned to Powell after five years away, smiled at thoughts of his introduction to Akporoghene, then a 15-year-old.
“It was March 2016, he gets out of a car, and I’m just looking at him. He’s an imposing figure. He comes over and shakes my hand, and his hand just wraps around mine.
“I didn’t know if he could play but he passed the eye test.”
Akporoghene came through an international gateway to U.S. education and athletics. He thought he might become a basketball player at a Christian prep school in St. Louis. He had played in Warri but there was a persistent problem. When he went after rebounds or improved his position for a jump shot, he knocked down friends and foes.
“Whatever move I made, they were always going to call the foul on me, because of my size.”
Safe from Nigerian referees in the U.S., Akporoghene just happened to come in contact with Buck Fitzgerald, founder of National Playmakers Academy in Nashville. Fitzgerald, who played football at Tennessee, convinced young Chris that he’d do much better on a gridiron than a gym floor. Buck explained that knocking people down was within our football rules.
“I got a call from a friend in Nashville,” said Lowe. “He knew The King’s Academy was a boarding school. He knew two previous Nigerians had been there, through an exchange program.”
Lowe taught Akporoghene a few little things, like how to adjust the chin strap on his helmet and how thigh pads fit inside his pants.
“There was a major learning curve.”
It helped that Chris speaks very good English (with an accent). He had and has excellent work habits. He thoroughly enjoyed instructional videos. He saw the value of studying great players.
“The first game he played in was the first game he had seen. It’s been great to watch him grow.”
Akporoghene became an offensive tackle and defensive nose guard. For two seasons, The King’s Academy had a better team.
In January, Akporoghene transferred to IMG. Coach Lowe and his parents supported the move. They hauled him to Bradenton in a mini-van. It was sad to give up the good guy but all concerned agreed the move was in his best interests.
“We really felt it was an opportunity to get ready for college,” said Coach Lowe. “The opportunity to compete against guys his size will prepare him. IMG has an outstanding program. It was the right fit.”
Lowe is sure Akporoghene will continue to improve. He is a quick study. He may get bigger.
“He might have another growth spurt. According to what he told us, his dad was around 6-10.”
Chris really likes food but has very little body fat.
“At our house, he often cooks for himself,” said Doug Lowe. “He likes chicken and turkey and beans and rice. We found the spices he likes.
“Before he came back for the summer, he sent a picture from IMG, one lunch plate, six pieces of salmon.”
Akporoghene has an assortment of scholarship offers – West Virginia, Auburn, Florida, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Miami, Texas, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Notre Dame, South Carolina, Virginia Tech, Michigan and others. He just visited Oregon – again.
Tennessee extended an offer on June 12. Chris had been waiting. He was pleased. He had a good time on the UT practice field with other campers. One drill was an explosive forearm shiver against a blocking dummy held upright by a graduate assistant coach.
Akporoghene knocked both upside down.
Marvin West invites reader reactions. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org