Azusa Pacific football legend Christian Okoye had an illustrious and limited NFL career, but his years at APU were nothing short of spectacular.

Need proof of how fantastic of an athlete Christian Okoye was? He was inducted into the Azusa Pacific Athletics Hall of Fame ten years after leaving the university. He is also celebrated in the Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Fame, the NAIA Track and Field Hall Of Fame, the Senior Bowl Hall of Fame and the Missouri State Sports Hall of Fame. Along with these honors, he founded and is part of, the California Sports Hall of Fame. 

There are reasons why he has earned many accolades from a plethora of different organizations. One of those reasons was his freakish figure. Okoye was nicknamed the “Nigerian Nightmare” for his strong frame and ability to break through tackles during his football career.

But before Okoye became a running back for the Kansas City Chiefs, he was a world-class athlete who came to Azusa from Enugu, Nigeria in 1982 at the age of 21. 

In Nigeria, Okoye loved to play soccer, along with being a thrower on his high school track team. However, at 17-years-old, he stopped playing soccer and decided to focus on being a thrower, which helped him arrive at APU on a scholarship. He participated in the discus, shot put and hammer throw with the intention of making the Olympics in 1984 in the discus. 

Okoye became a high-caliber athlete under Coach Dr. Terry Franson. He made an immediate impact, helping lead the Cougars to four straight NAIA Outdoor Track & Field National Championships from 1983 to 1986, winning seven combined national titles in the discus, shot put and the hammer throw. He managed to receive even more accolades that included Most Outstanding Performer for winning the discus and shot put in 1986.

With Okoye surpassing his country’s standards for the discus competition, it seemed like he would be part of the 1984 Nigerian Olympic Team and achieve his dream of representing his country in the Olympics. However, he was left off of the team, leaving Okoye devastated. 

This devastation turned Okoye’s attention to football — a sport he had never played and from first glance thought it was uninteresting. 

Before he made the switch to football, he wanted Franson’s permission. His coach agreed to let him play, knowing that Okoye’s intention was to make it to the pros.

Okoye once saw a running back in a Raiders jersey score a touchdown and asked coach Jim Milhon who that was and what position he played. Milhon explained that the player was Marcus Allen and he played the running back position. This is when Okoye decided he wanted to play running back.

Coach Milhon laid out 40 yards in the grass to test him out and see what he could do. He was able to run the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds. It was apparent he had all the physical tools to play the position, but he had to learn how to play the game.

It took him a while to learn the game, and Milhon had to teach him the basics of the sport. Okoye initially struggled with grabbing and catching the football as the ball wasn’t round, something he had grown used to through other sports. He also had a hard time understanding which direction was his team’s endzone. His teammate Joe Schulter, who was an NAIA All-American tailback, cut out a piece of cardboard and made a black arrow out of it so when Okoye went the wrong way he would bring out the arrow in the grass to show him which direction to run. 

Okoye also struggled with touchdown protocols, as he mindlessly stood in the endzone after scoring his first touchdown. After making a gesture, Okoye figured out he needed to give the ball to the referee.

There were times when he wanted to give up, yet Franson was always there to talk him out of it. And Okoye got used to the game, he was suddenly one of the most dangerous running backs in college football. 

The Nigerian set 14 school records for Azusa and led college football in rushing yards per game, averaging 186.7 yards. But, no, that’s not where the legend ends. He even sometimes punted the football, using some of his rooted soccer skills. 

Nevertheless, he struggled with getting noticed and wasn’t chosen for any senior All-Star games due to his competition for a small program. He eventually got his chance in 1987 when the Heisman Trophy runner-up Paul Palmer, who was also a running back, decided not to join the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. Okoye filled the role, and despite a bad ankle, he managed to score four touchdowns in the contest — a Senior Bowl record that still stands today.

That performance placed him under the spotlight, and it convinced the Chiefs to take a chance on him. 

Kansas City drafted him in the second round with the 35th overall pick. Okoye went on to play six seasons with the Chiefs, achieving two pro bowl selections (1989, 1991), a First-Team All-Pro selection (1989) and a Second-Team All-Pro selection (1991). He was the league’s rushing leader in 1989 with 1,480 yards, and he was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Year that same season.

Okoye retired as the Chiefs all-time rushing leader and is now running his own foundation called the Christian Okoye Foundation. Started in 1990, their mission is to offer free football, soccer and baseball athletic clinics to at-risk and underprivileged children. He has credited his APU experience towards having the desire to give back to his community and is still committed to incorporating a positive change for those in their youth.