Common Ground

Pat Fitzgerald’s Wildcats are a close-knit group, and several of his players are bound together even far beyond the gridiron. Linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo, defensive lineman Ifeadi Odenigbo and defensive backs Godwin Igwebuike and Dami Arowolaju all come from Nigerian families. Running back Venric Mark’s father is also Nigerian.

The players hail from around the country, from Texas to Ohio to Illinois — not quite a “pipeline” in common recruiting-speak, but there’s a clear connection between them.

“During the recruiting process it was nice to have people I could relate to, especially being the first person in my family born in America,” says Odenigbo, a highly recruited redshirt freshman from Centerville, Ohio. “I met with [former linebacker] David Nwabuisi and Chi Chi, and they really influenced me. It was a big factor in my decision to come here. It felt like family.”

Both Odenigbo’s and Ariguzo’s parents immigrated to the United States from Nigeria, settling in Ohio. Nwabuisi (C12, GSCS13) hosted both of them during the recruiting process. They immediately connected — all three have Igbo heritage (one of Nigeria’s many ethnic groups), and their families hail from the same region of the country.

When Ariguzo, now a redshirt junior, visited Northwestern, Nwabuisi met with his parents. “Nigerian parents are all very similar, very school oriented,” says Nwabuisi. “I knew exactly what they wanted for Chi Chi — the same things my parents wanted for me. We understood each other. Chi Chi and I actually have the same name [Ikechi], so that made it pretty simple for us to hit it off.”

Ariguzo, and now Odenigbo, have paid Nwabuisi’s hospitality forward. Odenigbo helped host the highly touted freshman Igwebuike on his visit last year.

According to the players, their upbringings were strict and disciplined. Odenigbo, who plans to study economics, says that discipline helped him make it to Northwestern.

Nwabuisi agrees. “Our parents definitely emphasize academic performance over football performance,” he says. “We knew we had to get good grades if we wanted to stay on the field. We were raised with great discipline. That definitely helped us adjust a little faster to the college experience.”

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