OLUMBUS — First, it was the unique name that drew people’s attention. Now it’s his game.
Chimdi Chekwa is happy being an important although somewhat anonymous part of No. 3 Ohio State’s stingy defensive unit. But he is proud of his Nigerian name and wants people to at least know how to pronounce it.
“A lot of people like to say ‘Chim-i-dee.’ It’s ‘CHEEK-wuh’ all the time, for some reason. For some reason they want to say ‘cheek’ instead of ‘check’ and put that extra ‘e’ in there,” the redshirt freshman nickelback said during preparations for Saturday’s game against Kent State.
The problem is that Ohio State’s media guide says his name is pronounced CHEEK-wuh. This troubles Chekwa. His game deserves some recognition, but what he does get is going to the wrong moniker.
“I heard the commentators were saying ‘Cheek-wuh,’” he said, almost aghast.
The announcers at Saturday night’s game at No. 23 Purdue had plenty of opportunities to mangle the name.
Chekwa had 11 tackles in his first five games, then had 10 — all of them solos — in the Buckeyes’ 23-7 win in West Lafayette, Ind. Purdue came in as one of the most prolific offensive teams in the land, but with Chekwa and his buddies mangling everything the Boilermakers did, they finished with 272 yards (223 under their average), four yards rushing and a lone touchdown with 10 seconds remaining.
The Big Ten singled him out as the conference’s defensive player of the week — not bad for a guy who’s only the fifth man in his own secondary.
Coach Jim Tressel certainly knows how to pronounce Chekwa’s name. Soon the rest of the football world will.
“Chimdi did a great job out there in open-field tackles,” Tressel said. “If you don’t make open-field tackles, all of a sudden they (the Boilermakers) are screaming down the field. He’s really grown in his role.”
The oddity is that Chekwa was almost overlooked by recruiters.
Chekwa played at a school that was just three years old, East Ridge High in Clermont, Fla. College coaches flocked to the school to see Richard Jackson, a receiver who ended up at Notre Dame. But East Ridge head coach kept saying that Chekwa might be just as good of a prospect despite incorrect information that had been spread by several recruiting services.
Two Ohio State assistant coaches went to an all-star practice in December and called Tressel.
“They said, ‘Oh my gosh. We think the one that the coach thinks is the top gun IS,”‘ Tressel said. “So we went after (him) right then.”
He’s come a long way in a short time. Chekwa’s parents came from Nigeria and he was born in the U.S. He has a sister who plays basketball at Mississippi State and a brother who ran track at Louisiana-Monroe.
The family lived in New Orleans’ west bank area, but moved to Florida before Hurricane Katrina hit in August of 2005. Chekwa knew a girl who was killed in the storm.
He spent last year as a redshirt adapting to the college game. Apparently, he’s a fast learner. He became the first Ohio State freshman or redshirt freshman to be selected as a Big Ten defensive player of the week since linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer in October 1996.
Chekwa plays by his instincts. He doesn’t try to get too cerebral on the field — in fact, he tries to do the opposite.
“You don’t want to have to think when you play. You do all the thinking in practice, then when you get to the game it’s all reaction,” he said. “My head is empty. I just go up there and make the tackle. If I even think about something, he (the ball carrier) is going to break that tackle.”
So far, that thought process — or lack of one — has worked well.
His may never be a household name, but he still wants everyone to know what his name represents.
Chimdi “means ‘God Is With Me,’” he said.
And what about the last name?
“The full last name, you put it together and it means ‘Death Pass Over Me,’” he said.
Oh, and it’s pronounced CHECK-wuh.
But don’t worry. You’ll likely hear it a lot in the next few years.