Mount head football coach, Rod Huber, M.Ed. ‘99, went to Nigeria in March with the Amobi Okoye Foundation to teach American football to African youth and help promote health and wellness programs including nutrition education, breast cancer awareness and HIV prevention. Okoye, an NFL player with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and native Nigerian, recruited Coach Huber to join his mission, after meeting him at an NFL Youth ProCamp. Coach Huber spent 12 days in various cities in Nigeria and South Africa, meeting the Prime Minister of Sports and other dignitaries, teaching adults how to coach and teach football, while they taught him an invaluable lesson about life. In this article for Mount News, Coach Huber details his mission trip in his own words.
The Journey Begins
When Amobi Okoye asked me to help lead a youth fundamental football camp, I quickly agreed without even considering it would be outside of the United States. I soon found out this camp was in Nigeria, where Amobi lived throughout his childhood. The realization that I would be instrumental in bringing a sport that I love to a country that didn’t have any organized youth leagues, didn’t hit me as much as the fact that I was going to be coaching people who might not understand me, nor might I understand them. Not to mention I had only a few weeks to go through a round of immunizations.
The flight from New York City to Lagos, Nigeria, took 15 hours. We landed at the airport to rock star status. There were a lot of press, cameras and police with AK47s waiting for us at the airport. Because Amobi plays in the NFL and we had a large American travel party, security was very high. Amobi is extremely popular and well known in his homeland. We quickly loaded onto a second plane that would take us to Port Harcourt, Nigeria. I knew as soon as we drove through the streets and pulled into our hotel that I was not in the good ol’ USA anymore! The hotel gates were closed with armed guards and the entire complex had barbed wire around the perimeter. Apparently, Americans are kidnapped often in Nigeria and held for ransom. That was obviously something I was not aware of when I jumped on this opportunity and started this journey.
One of the things that amazed me was all of the unfinished construction projects. It was explained to me that Nigeria has very few banks that offer credit, so Nigeria is a cash-and-carry society. Commerce and building projects are done depending on how much cash is on hand. A school that we visited had been saving for 10-plus years to finish a math-science wing. I met a schoolteacher who said he had been saving for 25 years to build his first house ever.
The people of Port Harcourt seemed as if they were always looking for any type of work, even just a day’s worth, and nobody seemed to have full-time employment. I struggled to understand their economy and their lack of understanding of time. Nobody ever seemed to be on time, which drove this football coach crazy! I was, however, routinely amazed by their entrepreneurial spirit and pride in what little they seemed to have.
An Amazing Country
We hit the ground running when we got to Port Harcourt and held a three-day coaches’ clinic. Each day, more and more people joined us who wanted to learn how to coach American football. We had several physical education teachers who came to learn how to coach and we even had several women who showed up in the 100-plus degree heat from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. They were amazing and had a strong passion for learning and teaching. I was inspired by their energy and desire to learn the great game of American football.
The young people who we worked with in Port Harcourt school system, almost 200 students, were just inspiring. They could not wait to learn how to catch and throw an American football. I was astounded that the children had never seen a football before, but they were so eager to learn the rules of the game and how to play.
It was one of my coaching career highlights to share this game I love so dearly with these kids and have them embrace it with such commitment. I was shocked by how many of these kids showed up in bare feet because they simply did not own shoes, tennis shoes or cleats. I could not imagine my Mount football players practicing for two hours in the heat without shoes on their feet. But the Port Harcourt kids just smiled and never complained and, in fact, did not want to quit practicing after the clinic was over. Perhaps the thing that amazed me the most about the students, was their ability to speak proper English. A teacher explained to me that all schools in Nigeria now teach English because it could lead to job opportunities in the United States. To quote him, “If one of these students can get a job in America doing anything, they will be better off than if they stay in Nigeria.”
Overall the people of Port Harcourt were so friendly and seemed to be interested in helping our group with anything and everything. One morning there was no water in the hotel and the electricity went out for a few minutes every hour or so. That day I was glad I had showered the night before as I’m sure my travel companions were also. I was greatly impacted by seeing the lack of basic necessities that we take for granted in America. There were very few working toilets, clean drinking water was scarce, there were no refrigerators or stoves, and I did not see one “real” grocery store. Everyone seemed to live by whatever means they could find. The amount of filth and garbage was overwhelming and I was saddened that such good people had to live in such awful conditions. No words can fully describe what I witnessed and experienced.
I Felt Like Santa
After a week in Nigeria, we flew to Johannesburg, South Africa, to conduct two more football clinics and make an appearance on ESPN Africa. I was amazed at the differences between Nigeria and South Africa. Johannesburg was much more modern and clean as was our beautiful hotel near the downtown area. We started by visiting two private schools where again Amobi was greeted like a rock star. I served as emcee at the events and got all the high school kids psyched up about American football, in pure Hubie style! We then drove 75 miles outside of Johannesburg where we visited Diep Sluth, South Africa, where one million people live in some of the worst conditions in the world. Right in the middle of it was an unbelievable school surrounded by barbed wire and patrolled by armed guards. We delivered school supplies and books to the most polite and grateful kids I have ever seen. I met one 16-year-old girl, who I can’t seem to forget as I have a daughter the same age, who was the class leader and seemed to be extremely bright. After she hugged me and went back to her studies, her teacher explained to me that just two weeks prior to our visit, she had been gang raped by a group of men from the village and needed to be hospitalized for several days. It was a cloudy day, but I had to put my sunglasses on so these wonderful students could not see the old football coach with tears in his eyes. What a humbling experience.
I have been many places in my life but I never dreamed people lived with families in one room with canvas walls and tin roofs. It is difficult to describe. But with that said, they smile, they laugh, they live, and I believe it’s a blessing to be a small part of their lives. I was proud to represent the Mount, the Sisters of Charity and my football team, and hope I get a chance to go back to Africa. I believe I made a small impact on a lot of kids’ lives and felt very good about the way American football was received by the young people of Africa.