|Kalu happily shares Nigerian roots with Texans rookie Okoye|
|Written by Admin|
|Monday, 06 August 2007 12:15|
Kalu and Okoye are the sons of Nigerian parents and descendants of the same tribe, the Ibo. Both were raised by stern disciplinarians who taught that getting an education, not playing sports, was the path to prosperity.
Both convinced their parents that football was a noble pursuit - and both managed to be precocious college students anyway.
``We have a lot of common - he's just 12 years younger,'' said the 32-year-old Kalu, starting his second season in Houston.
The two instantly bonded when Okoye, the 10th overall pick, walked into the Texans locker room and spotted a Nigerian flag in Kalu's locker, the one next to his.
Naturally, Kalu has become a mentor, often pulling Okoye aside for ``heart-to-heart'' chats.
``He's very hard on himself,'' Kalu says of Okoye. ``I just tell him that sometimes, he just needs to do what got him here. He has so much respect for the Nigerian culture, he's trying to do everything right. Sometimes, it takes away from his aggressiveness.''
While Okoye is expected to start at defensive tackle, Kalu will back up Houston's defensive ends. Coaches have talked to Kalu about being a leader - the aim this season is to back up his advice with his performance.
``You can talk and be a vocal leader all you want. No one's going to respect you or listen if you can't play the game,'' he said. ``When I get in the game, I want that offensive tackle to be thinking, 'Man, nothing let up.'''
Kalu was born in Baltimore and the family moved to Texas when he was still a boy. He became a high school standout in San Antonio and was recruited by Texas, Oklahoma and other football powers. To the delight of his parents and the bewilderment of friends, Kalu chose Rice, known much more for academics than football.
In Okoye, Kalu found someone who understood the decision.
``In the Nigerian culture, education is the way you make it out of poverty. You go where the best education was,'' Kalu said. ``We felt Rice could provide the best education. Most of my American friends don't understand that.''
While Okoye is mobbed by reporters after most practices, Kalu is happy in the background.
Coach Gary Kubiak said he overused Kalu in the preseason last year, wearing him down in the oppressive Texas heat. Kalu rebounded and got better as the season wore on, recording sacks on consecutive weeks in December and finishing with 21 tackles.
Kubiak is letting Kalu sit out the morning sessions this year, and Kalu has looked more like he did in 2003, when he made 74 tackles and intercepted a pass for Philadelphia.
``He's probably as good a pass rusher as we have right now on the football field, so I think we're just using him smarter and he's responding to that,'' Kubiak said.
While he's focused on this season, Kalu is also pondering life after football. He has a real-estate license and wants to build homes for low-income families in the Houston area.
Kalu made annual trips to Nigeria until he, his father and a cousin were robbed at gunpoint in 2005. He briefly considered trying to be a hero, but played it safe instead. The masked men took just about everything they had, but threw the car keys back to Kalu as they fled.
``I've got to remember it's a third-world country and the poverty is so bad,'' Kalu said. ``But I went every year for five straight years and I think I got too comfortable. When you go to Nigeria - and this is something I talked about with Amobi - you really can't let anybody know you're coming.''
Kalu's parents and two sisters live in Texas, along with his wife and three children. He'll never move to Nigeria, but he'll always feel a connection, despite the robbery.
``I still love Nigeria,'' he said. ``I have a close immediate family here. But when I'm in Nigeria, that's when I see the house my grandfather built, I see my first uncle, my first cousins. It really feels like home, even though America truly is.''
Notes: Versatile offensive lineman Chester Pitts, the only player to start all 80 games in franchise history, developed back spasms during practice Monday morning. Pitts had an MRI, but Kubiak didn't immediately know the results. ... Kubiak hasn't started breaking down film of the NFC champion Chicago Bears, who visit the Texans in Saturday's preseason opener. ``We've got enough issues with ourselves,'' Kubiak said. ``The good thing is we get to measure ourselves at the end of the week and where we're at with a great football team.''