Christian Okoye grew up in Nigeria and excelled in soccer, track and field. In fact, in 1984, he was training for the Nigerian track and field Olympic team but did not make it.
And that’s when he started playing football.
Okoye joined the team at Azusa Pacific University, and his coach asked what position he wanted to play. Okoye, who had once seen Marcus Allen bust off a big run, said, in essence, whatever position Allen played.
“That’s how I became a running back,” the former Chiefs All-Pro said on The MoJo Show. “That was it. I started playing in ’84. I played three years (there) and was invited to play in the Senior Bowl. I played in the Senior Bowl, scored four touchdowns and the Chiefs drafted me. The rest is history.”
Okoye, 53, played for the Chiefs from 1987 to 1992 and led the league in rushing in 1989. And if not for Allen, it probably wouldn’t have happened.
“Marcus is a special guy,” Okoye said. “He’s one of those guys who, when you look at him, he doesn’t look like a running back. He’s very talented. He knew exactly what he wanted to do on the field and how he wanted to do it. He didn’t beat around the bush. He was very skilled – very, very skilled. He taught a lot of guys a lot of lessons and a lot of guys looked up to him, including myself.”
Believe it or not, Okoye actually didn’t like football – at least not at first.
“The first time I played the game, I didn’t like it,” he said. “I hated football up until maybe my third or fourth year in the NFL. I just stayed with it because I was doing well. My friends and family encouraged me to stay with it because I was doing so well.”
Wait, you hated it?
“Yes, I hated it,” said Okoye, who wasn’t used to the physical contact. “The first time I saw it, it was extremely boring for me. I never really watched a full football game until maybe my third, fourth, even fifth year in the NFL. But I came to love it.”
But how did that transformation occur? How do you go from hate to love in such a short amount of time?
It’s simple: success.
“When you do well and then you get voted to go to Hawaii for the all-star game a couple of times and voted to the All-Pro team a couple of times and then you see how happy you make others when you score touchdowns and the way you play the game – what’s not to like about that?” Okoye said. “The physical part of it can take a back seat. I was able to provide for my family. I came from a very poor family. Football was one of those things that kind of opened my eyes and was able to bless me and bless my family at the same time.”