SU defensive end Caleb Okechukwu’s second chance at life and football

Orange Nation

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Caleb Okechukwu is listed as a backup defensive end on the Syracuse University football depth chart, but just the fact that he’s even on the depth chart and playing college football these days is a remarkable thing. 

You see, life was good for Caleb back in 2018. SU was winning football and he was soaking it all in.  

“It was fun. It was exciting. It was what I thought I expected it to be coming out of high school,” Okechukwu said. 

“We went 10-3 (and) we were ranked 13th in the nation,” Okechukwu added. 

But just like football, life can change quickly. 

“We were working out one morning (heading) into my redshirt freshman year and I just remember taking a step and dropping to the ground. I couldn’t get up,” Okechukwu recalled. 

Okechukwu was rushed to the hospital and was diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis. A breakdown of muscle tissue.  

“Basically, when you’re overly dehydrated, that’s how your body reacts. Doctors say I was the highest case they’ve ever seen,” Okechukwu said. 

Caleb’s doctors told him he had the worst case of rhabdomyolysis they had ever seen. It kept him in the hospital for three weeks. And while Caleb was in a health battle like never before, he was also trying to keep his dream of playing college football alive 

“Mentally that was probably the hardest part. (I was) face a reality I might not be able to ever play again,” Okechukwu remembered. 

Fast forward to that summer, Okechukwu learned to walk again. Walking turned into running, and running then turned into a career year, so far. Caleb, who registered six tackles against Rutgers in week two of the 2021 season, has 12 through four games and 1.5 tackles for loss. To put that in perspective, Okechukwu had just 14 tackles combined in his first two seasons at Syracuse.  

Life was good back in 2018 when Syracuse stormed on the scene, but it is even better now for Caleb. Because after what he went through to get back on the field, life has taken on a whole new meaning. 

“I enjoy it in the moment. One day this game will be gone. That’s something that people really don’t accept. I think I have accepted it, and now that I have it back, I can enjoy it even more.” 

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