'We could relate on another level': Unique bond with KU assistant helped Clinton Anokwuru pick KU football

Kansas football coach Les Miles promoted former quality control staffer Chidera Uzo-Diribe, naming him KU's new outside linebackers coach on Jan. 24, 2020.

Kansas football coach Les Miles promoted former quality control staffer Chidera Uzo-Diribe, naming him KU's new outside linebackers coach on Jan. 24, 2020.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Ever since Kansas football started recruiting Clinton Anokwuru, assistant coach Chidera Uzo-Diribe knew he had a special connection with the three-star defensive end — the two men both belong to the Igbo tribe in Nigeria.

“I knew he was in that tribe right away because of his name,” said Uzo-Diribe, who was promoted to KU’s outside linebackers coach in January. “There is a unique bond (among) us in the Nigerian community. So I think that bond really helped his family feel comfortable with me, and make him feel comfortable with us. So it was a unique situation.”

Anokwuru said he also recognized the connection long before the two met — in fact, he has a brother with the same first name as Uzo-Diribe. And throughout Anokwuru’s recruitment, the two were able to talk in their own language and bond over their shared heritage.

“We could relate on another level,” Anokwuru told the Journal-World during a phone interview shortly after signing day. “It means a lot to have somebody from the same place that I have been.”

It's more than just a common culture that connects them, however — they've also played similar roles on the football field. The 6-foot-3, 235-pound Anokwuru stood out at weakside defensive end during his prep days in Richmond, Texas, and Uzo-Diribe was a four-year letterman at defensive end for the Colorado football program before he joined the coaching ranks.

Uzo-Diribe finished his career tied for sixth on CU’s all-time sacks list with 20. He also recorded a solo tackle on 99 of his 118 stops, which is the highest percentage (83.9%) of solo stops in Colorado history.

In 2015, Uzo-Diribe signed with the New Orleans Saints as a free agent, but he decided to become a coach after being waived during training camp. He served as a quality control coach for KU’s defense in 2019 before being promoted this offseason.

Anokwuru said the all the similarities gave Kansas “a good advantage” throughout the recruiting process. But he also said he didn't necessarily expect to choose KU when he took his official visit a week before National Signing Day. He said he had doubts about whether he could see himself living in a place like Kansas.

“I guess Kansas is a big wheat state, so I thought it was going to be like a farm,” he told the Journal-World. “When I took my visit, I didn’t think I was going to go there.”

But Anokwuru’s opinion changed after his midweek visit, during which he spent plenty of time with Uzo-Diribe. He said he could see himself living there after the visit and he was also impressed by the university from an academic perspective. One week later, Anokwuru signed his letter of intent to join KU’s 2020 class.

“Clinton is going to be able to take an edge on a tackle and get to that quarterback,” Kansas head coach Les Miles said during his press conference on National Signing Day. “He’s a great pass rush guy.”

Per his MaxPreps page, Anokwuru had 43 total tackles (29 solo stops) in seven games during his senior season with Fort Bend Bush. He also finished with 13.5 tackles for loss and three sacks.

He excelled in other sports, as well. The only male athlete from his school to make it to track regionals a year ago, Anokwuru was hoping to qualify for state in discus this season. He also competed in the shot put and ran the 100-meter dash, but was unable to do any of that once the COVID-19 pandemic canceled spring sports.

Anokwuru believes that the skills he uses in throwing events, like discus, can translate to the football field. He said those skills help his hip movement on spin moves and make him more versatile and unpredictable off the edge.

For now, Anokwuru is just focused on preparing himself for the start of fall.

“(I’m) just trying to get right for KU,” Anokwuru said. “That way, when I get up there, it will be a smooth transition, and I’ll get to compete against the other guys that are over there.”