Wednesday morning, Covenant Day’s Wisdom Asaboro signed his National Letter of Intent like many other football student-athletes across the country on National Signing Day.
But few have a story like Asaboro’s.
At 6-foot-8, 285-pounds, he’s played football since August and had more than 15 scholarship offers. On Wednesday morning, he signed to play for North Carolina, chosing the Tar Heels over Penn State, Oregon and Virginia.
“It’s crazy,” Asaboro said Tuesday, standing in the sunshine at his high school. “All of this has happened in such a short span.”
Asaboro, a devout Christian, wears a large gold cross that hangs from his necklace as he speaks.
“I think it kind of shows God’s handiwork,” he said, “and since he decided for me to this, he’s showed me he has it under control.”
Born and raised in Nigeria, Asaboro initially came to the U.S. in the fall of 2016. He played basketball at Christ School, a private boarding school in Arden, N.C.., a mountain town of 20,000 near Asheville.
Asaboro returned to Nigeria for the 2017-18 school year before he got involved in Access 2 Success, a program that seeks to improve educational opportunities for Nigerian students.
A2S, as it’s called, was founded by former Davidson basketball player Andrew Lovedale, a native Nigerian who was part of the Wildcats’ 2008 Elite Eight run in the NCAA tournament, fueled by the 3-point shooting of Stephen Curry.
Lovedale helped pair Asaboro with a host family in Charlotte and helped him get enrolled at Covenant Day, a private school in southern Mecklenburg County near the Arboretum shopping center. Asaboro always fancied a college education in the U.S. He wants to be an engineer.
“I didn’t come here to play a sport,” he said. “I’ve always said sports is a means to an end.”
When Asaboro got to campus in August, third-year Covenant Day football coach Chris James couldn’t believe his luck.
James started the school’s football program three years ago, coaching a team of seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders. Last season, he coached junior varsity. In 2019, Covenant Day fielded its first varsity team, which finished 6-5. James knew Asaboro would be a big part of it, too, if he could get Asaboro to play.
“Man, I thought he was a pretty big kid,” James said. “He looked like (the Panthers’) Julius Peppers in high school. He’s very humble, soft-spoken and talented out the wazoo.”
Asaboro, James said, can run 40 yards in 4.7 seconds, fast for an athlete his size. Only, Asaboro wasn’t a big fan of football. At least at first.
“I never wanted to play football,” he said. “I hated it. I would watch (HBO’s) ‘Hard Knocks’ and then on the flight over here, I watched ‘Concussion’ by Will Smith and that was the stamp on the letter I’ve been writing of not playing football.”
But James wouldn’t take no for an answer.
“There’s a feeling you get when you know God wants you to do something,” Asaboro said. “I’m a very open guy and I’m open to trying new things and new challenges.”
Once, Asaboro got to try pizza, something he used to watch Americans eat on television. He dreamed of his first slice of pepperoni pizza. And when he got it, he hated it.
And Asaboro said American fruit tastes different, especially bananas. He was miffed that Americans’ dinner plates have meat as the focus, where at home the sides are featured.
But Asaboro has adjusted to U.S. cuisine and picked up pretty well on the U.S. football culture, too. As a defensive lineman, he had 28 tackles and four sacks last season. Eight of his tackles were for losses.
North Carolina was the first school to offer a scholarship to Asaboro, and that came in October. That started a flood of offers, as more schools fell in love with his potential.
James says Asaboro will likely be a project in college, but one who will steadily improve and play for years after his college career.
Asaboro is just excited for what comes next.
“It’s been a journey,” he said. “I never thought five years ago I’d be here, with everything that’s happened. It’s marvelous. I mean, I’ve barely played this game. I’m just happy I made the decision to leave my parents and come here. If I was in Nigeria, none of this would’ve happened.”