Photo courtesy of Bob Frid of UBC Athletics
Charles Nwoye has moved around a lot growing up — Nigeria, Edmonton, Calgary, Strathmore, Lethbridge and now Vancouver — but he has found a home in the defensive core with the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds football team.
The craziest part about Nwyoe’s journey is, he never strapped on pads before 2015.
Nwoye attended Holy Cross Collegiate where he played on the basketball team as a shooting guard and on the track team, competing in the 100-metre and the high jump.
One day, he was attending his brother’s track meet just outside McMahon Stadium when a former player for then University of Calgary head coach Blake Nill (who now joined the UBC Thunderbirds in 2015) introduced himself and connected him with Nill.
“A former player of mine began talking with (Charles) and noticed he had all the makings of a football player — size, strength and an athlete — so he put me in contact with him. Once I began talking with him, one thing led to another and now he is out here with us,” said Nill.
Not only did Nwoye land on his feet, he landed in one of the top Canadian Interuniversity Sport football programs in the country.
In his first year with the Thunderbirds, Nwoye was in the process of learning the most complicated team sport, but dressed for the 51st Vanier Cup, one in which the Thunderbirds shaved the Université de Montréal Carabins 26-23 at Telus Stadium.
“I got a lot more playing time than I was expecting. I didn’t think that I was going to dress for the Vanier Cup, but I did and it was an amazing experience,” said the 6-foot-3, 240-pound Nwoye, who rotates between playing on the defensive line, as a linebacker and on the special teams.
The Thunderbirds went 3-6 this season but made it all the way back to the Canada West Final Hardy Cup against the U of C Dinos. The Dinos trimmed the T-Birds in a nail bitter, 46-43, advancing to the U Sports Mitchell Bowl – a national semifinal for the Vanier – Nov. 19 at McMahon.
The Thunderbirds lay waste to the University of Regina Rams 40-34 the week prior at Mosaic Stadium at Taylor Field.
“It would have been real nice to win that one, but playing on this team has given me a great opportunity to see a lot of Canada,” said Nwoye.
Nwoye moved to Edmonton from Nigeria when he was in Grade 5. From there, his father took a job in Calgary and moved his family to Strathmore. Nwoye rarely travels outside the Calgary area and never stepped foot in Vancouver until heading away to university.
UBC was his second post-secondary campus. Nwoye graduated from HCC at 16-year-old and completed two years of study at the University of Lethbridge. Now 20, he is working towards a degree in economics and can see staying out west when he is done.
His stats won’t jump off the page — he recorded one tackle his first year and six more this past season — but he is coming along just the way the T-Birds coaching staff envisioned it would.
“If the player has the willingness to step outside their comfort level and try football, then this is a good spot for it. Players have to have the desire to get better if they want to play on this team, and Charles definitely has that,” said Nill. “He definitely has a lot of work to do if he wants to expand his roll, but he is an outstanding young man from a great family, and if he keeps improving at the rate he is and where we thought he would be, he will get better.”
Now a football junkie, Nwoye watches the New England Patriots of the NFL and some of his former teammates play in the CFL whenever he gets the opportunity.
He has also planted the football bug in his younger brother Alex.
Alex is a wide receiver for the Strathmore Community Football Association senior Badgers and a Grade 10 student at HCC.
“We stay pretty close and share stories. I think he beat up on a team by 120 points a few weeks ago,” said Charles. “I realize that he has the potential in him too, so I want him to get the playing time in and the experience so he is more prepared when he gets to this next level.”
“Charles came home one day and was really enthusiastic about the sport,” said Alex. “He brought me out to the field and had me running routes, playing catch and it grew on me.”
While it was love at first snap for Charles, he might have a little bit of work to do on Alex, as Alex is focused on the upcoming basketball season and will be a shooting guard for the Hawks. But you never know where sports can take you, just ask Charles.
“I think about it all the time. It’s so surreal, looking back two years; I would have never thought I would be playing for arguably the best program in Canada. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I want to make the most out of it.”