held the 17th annual 'Cuse Awards held the 17th annual 'Cuse Awards

Syracuse Football: Caleb Okechukwu road to recovery & why we love him

Syracuse football (Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports)
Syracuse football (Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports) /

On May 2, Syracuse Athletics held the 17th annual ‘Cuse Awards, honoring student-athletes who play for Syracuse football and other Orange sports. Players received awards based on their on and off-the-field accomplishments.

This year, the Syracuse 8 Courage Award winner was Syracuse football defensive lineman Caleb Okechukwu. The Syracuse 8 were nine African American players who, in 1970, boycotted spring practice under the grounds of what a committee later ruled as institutional racism and after pressure from the boycott and then-Syracuse Mayor Lee Alexander threatening to cancel the home opener, changes were made. For more information, you can read about it here.

As Caleb was named the person receiving this honor, there was a video played about why he was chosen. Myself and many Syracuse football fans watched, as we were unaware of the struggles Caleb faced just trying to get on the field and not be medically disqualified.

It turns out that Caleb was diagnosed with a rare condition called Rhabdomyolysis. According to the video and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it’s a serious medical condition that “occurs when damaged muscle tissue releases its proteins and electrolytes into the blood.” This can lead to heart or kidney issues and, eventually, led to Caleb’s hospitalization.

Caleb later recovered but not after extensive treatment and a hard regime to recovery, not just to play again but just to be “normal.” Not only was he a freshman for Syracuse football trying to prove he belonged in 2019 with players like Kingsley Jonathan, Kendall Coleman and current Seattle Seahawks player Alton Robinson, but he was also having to meet certain health guidelines just to even compete.

Syracuse football defensive lineman Caleb Okechukwu is an inspiration to us all.

Caleb eventually earned a spot on the team, becoming a leader and now ‘Cuse Mob member with one more season left in Orange. Caleb, alongside teammate Marlowe Wax Jr. and former teammate Ja’Had Carter, became fan favorites posting ‘Cuse Mob videos weekly during the 2022 season often featuring guests as well.

Through this, Caleb and Marlowe became fan favorites and many of them had little to no idea how much adversity Caleb had faced.

And while all of the above is factual and can be found through research, what isn’t stated is something I think needs to be discussed here. As fans, many of us become so concerned with stats and facts that we forget the player behind those is a person with real-life issues like you and I.

Caleb has dealt with the loss of his mother at 13 to cancer and his own medical issues on top of being a student-athlete trying to stay eligible and be the best player he can be on the field, and the best person he can be off of the field.

We don’t always know or understand the depth of the players we root for but it’s my contention that before we boo them, we should understand them as humans. Nobody wants to win more than them no matter how much of a fan we might be, and these athletes chose to do this to represent the team we love.

We should not view them as just the number of sacks they’re capable of making but also remember that just like you and I, they wake up with challenges like you and I. And yes, it’s a privilege they get that does come with benefits, but it’s also hard work and dedication that not only got them the opportunity but also enables them to continue to succeed on the field.

So to Caleb Okechukwu, I say thank you for your passion on and off the field that makes being a Syracuse football fan more fulfilling and for the Mob fun we enjoy. To fans watching, I encourage you to keep in mind Caleb’s story and remember to root on our players because they are humans like us who deserve our love and respect.

Roman Krznaric is an Australian-born philosopher and author who once wrote, “Empathy is the art of stepping imaginatively into the shoes of another person, understanding their feelings and perspectives, and using that understanding to guide your actions.”

Next. Syracuse Football: Some May musings on the Orange football program. dark