It is because of the EA Sports NCAA Football video game that Clemson became the dream school for Ruke Orhorhoro when he was younger.
Now, he is living out his dream as a real-life football player for the reigning national champions.
“It was really through the NCAA football game, because that was the only team that could beat Alabama,” Orhorhoro said this week, reflecting on how he developed a love for the Tigers. “So, every time my brother would pick Alabama, I would play Clemson.”
Orhorhoro grew up playing basketball, not football, and for the longest time, he thought his calling was to that sport. However, he realized once he got to high school that his future was not on the hardwood after all.
“I thought I was going to play basketball for the rest of my life because in eighth grade, I was always the tallest kid, and when 10th grade came, there’s point guards that are my size,” he said. “So, I can’t go to the NBA being a 6-5 power forward or center, so I had to come to the realization that I had to figure out something else to do.”
After the conclusion of his sophomore basketball season at River Rouge (Mich.) High School, Orhorhoro was invited to try out for the school’s football team.
He began playing football his junior year, and after some trial and error position wise, he found his niche as a defensive lineman.
“It was my 10th grade year after basketball season. We lost in the state championship, and I was going into my junior year,” Orhorhoro said. “I have six siblings, and my parents are paying for their schools, so I was trying to figure out ways for them not to pay for my school.
“So, my coach just called me after the game – my football coach, Corey Parker – and told me to come try out and play football for him. I didn’t know what I was doing. I just went out there and played a lot of positions actually. They switched me from wide receiver to tight end to linebacker, and I was getting heavier and bigger and bigger and lifting weights. I eventually somehow ended up on the D-line, and it just went up from there.”
A native of Nigeria with raw physical tools and talent, Orhorhoro quickly saw his recruitment take off upon his transition to the gridiron as college coaches took notice of his potential.
Toledo offered first in September 2017, three games into his junior season. By the following spring, he had over two dozen offers.
Clemson’s recruitment of Orhorhoro started when defensive coordinator Brent Venables followed him on Twitter.
“It just happened out of the blue,” Orhorhoro said. “I was getting closer to closing my recruitment. During the summer, I wanted to commit early so I could focus on my senior season. And then when he followed me, that just opened up a lot of doors.”
Orhorhoro and Venables had some trouble connecting on Twitter, but once they linked up, he received an offer from Clemson in April 2018.
He visited Clemson for the first time that June and committed to the Tigers shortly thereafter, choosing them over the other schools in his Top 4: Michigan, Indiana and Kentucky.
“It’s kind of a funny story,” he said. “I was just on my phone one day and Coach Venables followed me on Twitter, and I kept trying to follow him, but I guess his Twitter was private, so he didn’t know how to accept it. So, we couldn’t communicate. So, he kind of reached out to me and DMed, gave him my number, and then we talked and they offered me over the phone. Just to show how serious I was, I came down here in like two weeks. Ever since then, it’s just been sky’s the limit.”
After enrolling early at Clemson in January and then going through spring practice, Orhorhoro has played in five of the Tigers’ nine games this season. He was on the field for a career-high 18 snaps last Saturday against Wofford and recorded two tackles including his first career tackle for loss.
Orhorhoro, 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds when he started playing football in high school, is now up to 293 pounds. He played exclusively defensive end in high school but moved inside to tackle once he got to Clemson.
“It was completely different,” he said of the position switch. “Everything moves fast in there, so I didn’t have time to read my blocks. So, I struggled with reading blocks and all that, but now it’s kind of slowed down to me and now I can see what’s coming.”
Orhorhoro feels he has grown in every aspect of his game since arriving to Clemson, especially his ability to stop the run, and credited defensive tackles coach Todd Bates for helping him improve.
“Coming here and switching positions to defensive tackle, it hasn’t been that much of a drop-off. It’s still the same to me,” Orhorhoro said. “He’s coached me very well, taken his time with me. So, the game is slowing down to me and it’s not like I’m running out there with my head cut off and just running around out there with the bright lights.”
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