A couple of weeks ago Andrew Mukuba became the first freshman safety to start for Clemson in recent memory, playing from the first snap of the opener against the University of Georgia. Mukuba drew high praise from defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who said the freshmen would have started regardless of the health of fellow safety Nolan Turner (who likely would have joined Mukuba if healthy).
The four star safety, a product of Texas via Zimbabwe, showed off the athleticism that made him a serious sprinter and high jumper in high school and hit well above his listed size (6’, 190 lb.). His HUDL tape shows a rangy safety in zone coverage, with the ball skills to play some wide receiver, who likes coming downhill against the run. The perfect sort of defensive back for a cover four based defense.
I’ve rarely heard Venables as high on a freshman as this, via 247’s Anna Hickey,
“Such a remarkable young guy. First and foremost, he kind of epitomizes what we want our program to be about… To be able to get a guy like that out of Austin, Texas is because he’s looking for the right things in regards to his values. He’s about his business. How many times he’s said thank you and gone out of his way to say ‘thank you coach,’ and he’s done it to a lot of people since he’s been here... ‘thank you for bringing me, thank you for believing in me, just stuff like that.’ Like who does that when they’re 18 years old? It’s a breath of fresh air. He’s easy to coach and cold-blooded on the field. He’s got ice in his veins.”
It is an overwrought trope to compare the trials and tribulations of someone’s upbringing to their maturity after the fact. This trope does not support all of those in difficult circumstances, it offers less than nothing to those who are not exceptional enough to overcome, but serves to highlight the one member of a community who was able to succeed. In Andrew Mukuba’s case this trope also appears to be entirely accurate.
In high school he spoke about being the son of a single mother and setting the bar for his siblings, of learning that nothing is given on nights using candles without energy as a child in Zimbabwe. That’s not a perspective most eighteen year olds can access, and what Venables is getting at when he says the teenager has used his experience “to fuel him and develop him instead of destroy or define him.”
Closer to the line of scrimmage another Tiger earned his first start against the Bulldogs, with Ruke Orhorhoro debuting at defensive tackle. Like Mukuba, Ruke Orhorhorho moved to the United States as a child, coming with his family from Lagos, Nigeria. Unlike Mukuba, Orhorhoro’s development hasn’t always gone as planned. The raw defensive tackle only began playing football in 2017, originally focusing on basketball, and was unable to get many developmental reps in 2020 due to a meniscus injury. The 6’4”, 270 lb. three star prospects size and athleticism have always intrigued Venables, who originally contacted the Michigan product on twitter. If one of the best defensive coordinators in the country is willing to go this far out of his way to sign a prospect (Clemson had not signed a Michigan recruit in nearly a half century) there had to be something there.
Without star defensive tackle Tyler Davis against the Bulldogs Ruke proved he belonged, combining with the rest of the defense to more or less neutralize a strong Georgia offense. He followed up this performance by leading the team in tackles against SC St. Now playing at a listed 295 lb. Ruke has already exceeded his freshman year tackles as a sophomore and is an early candidate for most improved player on the team. If you are in the tri-county area and/or have access to Michigan high school basketball film, I need to see this man abuse high school big men like an even bulkier Kenny Lofton Jr. and we all need to see this man dunk.
Stories like Ruke and Andrew’s are probably going to become more common in future years if demographics are any indicators. A story at Matt Brown’s fantastic Extra Points newsletter points out that by around 2030 we can expect that immigration is likely to overtake natural increase of population (birth rate - death rate) as the primary driver of population growth in the USA.
There are also increasing numbers of athletes from abroad competing in college sports as a whole, college football is something of an outlier for not recruiting globally at this point.
Obviously, it is unlikely that football will become as international as basketball and tennis any time soon, but growing the sport both in non-traditional places domestically and internationally is important to the future health of football as a whole. Plus, a childing moving here from abroad and through a combination of talent and discipline getting a free college degree, make some money while doing it, and starring on one of the best American football programs in the country seems about like the American Dream.