Introducing 6-foot-8, 280-pound Nigerian lineman Wisdom Asaboro
It has become an increasingly common trend -- incredible athletes from West Africa popping up on high school football teams across the Southeast and along the East Coast. The latest example is Wisdom Asaboro, a lineman that has drawn attention, and a growing list of scholarship offers, from some of the nation's top football programs.
"At first it was tough," Asaboro said of moving more than 5,000 miles to America. "Thinking about it, I was only 16 when I came to the U.S. I was at a boarding school in Nigeria when I was 12 and my home was in the same town so if I was uncomfortable I could just go home. Taking the step to move to the U.S., having a host family of people I never knew before, having to trust in them was really tough but once I got going it was really easy.
"They were very supportive. They understood where I was coming from, where I was going, what my focus was, my mindset, and everything I had to do. At the get-go it was kind of rough but once I got going and had the support it was very easy."
Asaboro plays defensive tackle for Matthews (N.C.) Covenant Day School but he wouldn't be on this side of the Atlantic Ocean without the help of somebody who has been in his shoes.
"Wisdom came to America with this nonprofit organization called Access to Success," said Chris James, Asaboro's head coach at Covenant Day School. "They are based here in Charlotte and the guy who started it is named Andrew Lovedale. He played with Steph Curry at Davidson when they made that great Elite Eight run back in the day. Andrew is a big Nigerian player that they had and was a really good player for them.
"Once Andrew got done playing he started this nonprofit organization to find kids that could follow in his footsteps. They find good kids and Christianity is a big part of it. Wisdom's father is a pastor in Nigeria.
"Our headmaster has a relationship with Andrew and that’s how Wisdom ended up coming to Covenant Day School. He got here in early August."
Lovedale and Asaboro crossing paths only happened because of one of Asaboro's seven siblings.
"In June of 2015 there was a basketball empowerment camp at the university my eldest brother attended," Asaboro said. "I had started playing basketball barely a year before and he thought the camp would really help me. I went and met Andrew there. I barely talked to him then but he liked me and thought I was a good kid that had a vision and was focused. He told me he might be able to help me get a scholarship in the U.S.
"I had to think about it for a year and in 2016 he came back and asked me if I thought about it. I told him that it was my dream to pursue my academics in the U.S. The basis of it was not sports, it was all academics because I’ve always had the dream of being an automotive engineer and I felt like the U.S. was the peak of engineering. When I heard about the offer from Andrew I figured it was a good way to achieve my dreams and I should give it a try."
Asaboro left Nigeria to play basketball at the Christ School, a boarding school in Arden, N.C., where he arrived as a sophomore at the beginning of the 2016 academic year, making him a class of 2019 college prospect. He ended up going home to Nigeria at the end of the school year and stayed there until he enrolled at Covenant Day School in August of this year. When Asaboro arrived at Covenant Day School they enrolled him in classes as a junior because he hadn't taken any additional classes during the year after he left the Christ School.
A surefire college prospect
When we will see Asaboro at the next level is still up in the air but one thing is certain, he is a surefire college prospect.
"We want to classify Wisdom as a 2020 prospect,” James said. “A lot of that is because he's been moving around so much and we want to make sure he's ready academically, spiritually, and emotionally. This is going to be a big jump for him when he moves onto big-time college football and we want to make sure he's ready for that. We don't want to rush him into a situation he's not ready for. This is a unique situation with him being able to be a 2019 prospect as well. It's still a fluid situation.
"Wisdom is a junior here at Covenant Day School. All the classes that he is currently in are all junior classes. What happened with us is, we sent his Nigerian transcript off to see what classes he needed to be eligible for the NCAA Clearinghouse and make sure he would be ready to go. When we got all that information back from this third-party organization, we sent it to get it translated into our American education system, we found out that he had more credits that translated into college credits than we initially thought. That means Wisdom might have the option to potentially be a 2019 college prospect.
"We just sent that to the NCAA Clearinghouse so there are still a lot of hurdles in front of him if he does want to be a 2019 prospect. He still needs to take one of the tests and we need to make sure the Clearinghouse sees those credits the same way that the third-party organization sees it. At the end of the day, we’re still looking at Wisdom as a 2020 prospect until we get all the information. He is still so new to not only football but America and American culture in general. We’re trying to do what’s best for the kid and make sure he has the time to not feel like this is a knee-jerk reaction. He’s a junior unless something else crazy happens.
"He is 18 years old right now. Wisdom can play for us this year but he's technically not eligible to play for us next year. He'll be just over the age limit. The good thing is that he's going to have options. Some schools want him as a 2019 recruit and then there are schools that want him as a mid-year 2020 recruit and others that want him as a full-year 2020 recruit. The thing for us is, we want him to be ready academically, spiritually and emotionally."
College programs are breaking down the door to get to Asaboro so they can be the next school to offer him a scholarship, host him for a visit and make a strong impression.
"Wisdom is so raw from an athletic perspective but his potential is off the charts for how good he could be,” James said. “There is the obvious reason for why all these offers are starting to come in. Both of Wisdom’s parents are about 6-foot-5 and he has seven brothers and sisters, none of which are small individuals.
"I’ve been talking to a lot of coaches who are calling about Wisdom and asking them if there are many 6-foot-8, 280-pounders across the country that can run like him and they laugh and say there aren't. It’s really amazing. Sometimes as a coach you laugh because I don’t think I’ve ever coached a kid that’s that big but can actually run a running back down. He’s a really quick kid."
“The kid is so humble and such a good kid,” he said. “I’ve been talking to Wisdom about all of this and he says to me, 'Coach, I was in Nigeria three months ago. I never dreamed that something like this could happen.' It’s amazing that this is happening because there are a lot of kids around the country to have something like this happen where they get a lot of offers but then they turn into somebody who isn’t that humble. It’s really quite amazing.
“Academics are really important to Wisdom and he wants to make sure he's ready from an academic standpoint to make it wherever he's going. He actually wants to be an automotive engineer. He's very serious about his academics and that's going to play a major role in this thing.”
So far Asaboro has gone to five college football games: Auburn at Georgia, Louisville at Clemson, Tennessee at South Carolina, Virginia Tech at Duke and Clemson at Auburn in 2016.
"I have a friend, Prince Tega Wanogho, that plays at Auburn so I decided to go watch a game," he said. "My first impression was that I was pretty amazed that guys could be able to balance the sport and their education and still give their all out there on the field.
"I was so surprised at how many people turned out to support them. You see people who put out tents to tailgate and it was amazing to see that. In Nigeria, college sports are not massive like that and the turnout isn’t that massive. I was surprised by that. My first thought when I saw the people tailgating was that they stayed out there, grilled, ate and never got into the football game. The barbecue was really good."
The other players at Covenant Day School weren't sure what to expect when they heard Asaboro was joining their team but it sounds as if he has been welcomed with open arms.
"It’s been great having Wisdom," said Nicko Henderson, a junior safety at Covenant Day School. "The day he first came out to practice we thought he was just going to be one big guy but he’s been a great addition to the team on the field, off the field, and in school. He’s a great guy with a great work ethic and really cheers on his teammates. It’s been a good relationship, being able to learn some of the things he does while he learns the way we do things."
Football injuries were a concern
Asaboro’s football knowledge is still minimal but he says it has been easier to pick up than he thought it would be.
"I’ve played other sports," Asaboro said. "I did track as a kid in Nigeria. I played soccer because every Nigerian kid plays soccer. I was the goalie. In 2014, I started playing basketball so I had to get used to every sport I played.
"Football was probably the quickest sport I understood because I have a great coaching staff and teammates. They made it really easy for me to pick it up. Especially during the first month of practice I had teammates who always told me what I needed to do and if I was doing it the right way they told me it was fine but I needed to do it better. If I did something that was good, they encouraged me to be the best and give 100-percent every day.
“One thing that surprised me was, I had never played the game before but I had watched clips of the game and after watching those clips I had the original mindset that I was not going to play football because the film I saw was of really hard hits. I thought it was a deadly sport but then I started playing the sport and I noticed it was not what it looked like. It is good if you know what you’re doing. Even though you don’t plan for an injury, I think if you go 100 percent every time and you do the right thing, you warm up and do everything you needed to do, you can avoid injury.
"That was one thing that really surprised me because, when I played basketball, everyone was telling me I could get a lifetime injury in football. That was a challenge for me but, after being brought up in a Christian home, I think I have God on my side. I just go out there, try my best and let God move through me.”
RANKINGS NOTE: Since Asaboro could possibly sign in the 2019 recruiting class, that is where he will be classified until that is no longer a possibility.