By Collin Brooks
ETSU defensive end Jason Maduafokwa racked up Southern Conference All-Freshman honors during his debut season as a Buccaneer. But it was an accomplishment he secured during the offseason that he might be most boastful about.
Maduafokwa came to Seymour, nestled in the mountains of East Tennessee, as a 13-year old 8th grader from Nigeria in 2011. Close to six years later, he is now an American citizen.
“It doesn’t really feel much different,” the 6-foot-3, 260-pound Maduafokwa said through a boyish smile. “But it is an accomplishment that I am proud of.”
The Nigerian native, who visited home during Christmas break, said he didn’t quite understand the gravity of the situation until he posted his accomplishment on social media and people started to congratulate him.
Perhaps one of the most proud is ETSU head football coach Carl Torbush, who said the accomplishment speaks to the level of Maduafokwa work ethic that he took the time to pass the test.
“It’s not as easy of a process as many of us believe it to be,” Torbush said. “Quite honestly, probably all of us need to go through that process to understand where we live a little bit better.
“Most of us take living in America for granted, and think that just because we live here somebody ‘ought to give us something for nothing and that isn’t the way it is. Right now, he is getting prepared to vote for the first time and do some other things that he hasn’t had the luxury of doing. I am proud of him.”
During his time in Nigeria, Maduafokwa wasn’t enjoying his time at school and his parents wanted him to receive an American education. He said that he didn’t feel comfortable in his home country, because he felt different than everyone else.
“I didn’t really care at that point, I was just trying to get away from everything and I wanted a fresh start,” said Maduafokwa, whose grandfather on his mom’s side was a king in his village. “I just wasn’t happy at all. Life was just tough back home. Not financially, but I was bullied, not physically, but they would always talk and I didn’t have many friends at all.”
He didn’t feel any of that when he moved to enroll in The Kings Academy in Seymour.
“The first day that I got there, I felt really happy and that was the first time I was really happy in the last five years,” Maduafokwa said.
Maduafokwa said that he thought he had a handle on the American culture after he graduated from TKA in 2015, but once he started to take different classes and meet new people at ETSU, it opened up his eyes to another world.
“I guess I didn’t know American culture like I thought that I did,” said Maduafokwa, who has a Nigerian flag draped in his dorm room. “I just keep learning things.”
It isn’t only off the football field that Maduafokwa continues to learn.
He started the preseason at the linebacker position for the Bucs and eventually moved to defensive end. He said the game got easier once he made the move as he only has one mission at that position, get the football. And that is what he did during his first year, racking up 23 tackles, including four sacks and a team-high 6.5 tackles for loss, while appearing in 10 of the Bucs 11 games.
But football wasn’t always his first love.
When he first came to America, he constantly told his friends and family that didn’t like football. He didn’t get any playing time during his freshman season at TKA, but his time increased during his sophomore season. A broken wrist would shorten his second year on the football field, but with that break came a new-found love for the game.
“I wasn’t really mad that I broke my wrist, I was just thinking that maybe football is my thing,” Maduafokwa said. “So I started taking it seriously and I worked really hard in my rehab and I started to realize that football was my identity. The fact that people were cheering for me and acknowledging that I did something good, that made me want to get back out there.”
While he recovered from his broken wrist, he also hit a growth spurt that allowed him to gain close to 25 pounds. He was able to grow even more once he graduated high school and enrolled in ETSU. Redshirting his first season on campus, helped him develop his body and his mindset when it came to football.
“I played at a small school, so the competition we were playing was never as big as the guys that we were playing here,” Maduafokwa admitted. “But once I got in there, I was comfortable and it was just like playing football again.”
And now, he is part of a program that is building from the ground-up. That is one of the things that intrigued him about coming to ETSU.
“I just like the idea of starting from the ground up, because I started from the ground up and I just wanted to build a legacy here with all of my teammates,” Maduafokwa said. “We can really start something here and I like the idea of that.”