Kamloops Broncos boast fledgling Nigerian Nightmare on defence

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Kamloops Broncos boast fledgling Nigerian Nightmare on defence

Kamloops Broncos boast fledgling Nigerian Nightmare on defenceMaurice Onyemaenu is encouraged on the sidelines after making a play for his Kamloops Broncos in a 14-7 defeat to the Vancouver Island Raiders of Nanaimo on July 30 at Hillside Stadium.Allen Douglas/KTW

Kamloops has its very own Nigerian Nightmare.

Maurice Onyemaenu, who had never played a down of football until last summer, earned B.C. Football Conference and Canadian Junior Football League defensive player of the week honours after recording 10 tackles for the Kamloops Broncos in a 14-7 loss to the Vancouver Island Raiders of Nanaimo on July 30 at Hillside Stadium.

“He came out last year and had no idea what he was doing,” Broncos’ head coach Braden Vankoughnett said. “He came back this year as a beast for us.”

Onyemaenu did not know of Christian Okoye when asked on Friday. He plans to do some reading.

Okoye was 21 when he came to the U.S. in 1983 to compete in throws for the Azusa Pacific University Cougars in California and pursue a spot on the Nigerian Olympic team, but the discus expert was omitted from the squad that competed at the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles.

He was devastated.

“I thought to myself, ’I’m going to play football,’” Okoye told NFL Films. “I didn’t know anything about the game.”

He was 23 when he picked up the pigskin for the first time, playing running back under Asuza Pacific head coach Jim Milhon.

Okoye was drafted into the NFL in 1987 and led the league in rushing yards in 1989, his exploits with the Kansas City Chiefs earning him the Nigerian Nightmare moniker and a place in the team’s hall of fame.

How Onyemaenu’s career pans out remains to be seen, but its start bares resemblance to Okoye’s.

Onyemaenu came to Kamloops in 2018 to study at Thompson Rivers University and planned to play soccer for the TRU WolfPack.

“I failed woefully at it,” Onyemaenu said of his attempt to catch on with the Pack’s soccer squad. “The coach told me I was overweight and I had to lose 20 pounds. I went into the gym. After six or seven months, I started looking like I was roided up. I started looking freakish. I grew so much muscle I didn’t want to go back to soccer. I was too huge for soccer.”

Vankoughnett spotted Onyemaenu kicking the soccer ball around in 2019 with a group of international students and quickly shifted into recruiting mode.

Onyemaenu was not interested at the time, but reconsidered the gridiron last year when approached again by Vankoughnett.

“He said, ’Hey, man. You’re really huge and I think you’d be wasting your time if you’re not playing football,’” said Onyemaenu, who is from Abagana, which is about a two-hour drive from Enugu, Okoye’s hometown.

“I said, ‘You know what, maybe this might just be a family talent.’ And, geez, here we are.”

Onyemaenu said Jeff Okudah, a cornerback for the Detroit Lions, is his second cousin and he has close family ties to Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ offensive lineman Kay Okafor.

“I feel like I have the talent,” Onyemaenu said. “I want to make it professionally, CFL and NFL some day.”

His lofty goals don’t seem likely to be thwarted by lack of work ethic.

Onyemaenu began his rookie season for the Broncos in 2021 as a backup receiver and finished as the sixth or seventh option on the defensive-lineman depth chart.

“It was motivation,” Vankoughnett said. “He took it on himself to grow and develop into a better player. Maurice is one of the hardest-working guys I know, in terms of work and managing his schedule to play for his international student fees and be a football athlete. He runs his own personal training business. Football has a great future for him and he’s working hard for it, too.”

Onyemaenu, who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 230 pounds, has found a home at the defensive end position.

“The growth he’s had from last year to this year is incredible,” Vankoughnett said. “Not only in terms of the weight room and the 40 pounds he put on, but just ability to learn the game. It definitely showed this week in our game.”

The Broncos have a new board of directors and are aiming to better their reputation in the Kamloops sports community both on the field, where they are 2-28 in their last 30 games, and off the field, where blunders have happened far too often.

Like so many Broncos before him, Onyemaenu seems certain of one thing: “Oh, no, no, no — this year is going to be a really different year,” he told KTW.

There were promising signs in the defeat to the Raiders, most notably on defence, which produced four defensive player of the week nominees, including Onyemaenu, Logan Ritchie, Peter Orajewke and Jack Bellefontaine.

“This year, we’ve got the guys on D. You’ve got a guy like me, too. I’m pretty modest with it, but with a guy like me, too, this year is going to be really different. We just need the offence to click just a little bit,” Onyemaenu said.

The expansion Prince George Kodiaks played host to Kamloops on Saturday.

“We’re going to show the country what we are made of this weekend in PG,” Onyemaenu told KTW a few days before the Week 3 matchup in the Gateway to the North. “You’re going to see. They’re not ready for us this year. They’re not.”

Onyemaenu racked up one quarterback sack, one fumble recovery, two tackles and one assisted tackle to help Kamloops (1-1) earn a 35-20 victory over Prince George (0-2).

Afrotimes Newspaper

www.afrotimesnews.com

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