King/Drew’s Chinedu Onyeagoro makes successful jump to football

Former King/Drew basketball player Chinedu Onyeagoro poses for a photo with his parents in the background.
Former King/Drew basketball player Chinedu Onyeagoro. had to convince his parents, Ben and Ifeoma Onyeagoro, to let him play football.
(Haleemon Anderson / Los Angeles Times)
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Sixth in a series of stories profiling top high school football players by position. Today, Chinedu Onyeagoro, King/Drew defensive lineman.

Chinedu Onyeagoro, a four-star recruit at defensive end for King/Drew Magnet, almost didn’t play football at all.

His mother, Dr. Ifeoma Onyeagoro, was not in favor. When her son asked to join the new team at his school, her response was, “Why? It’s not safe.”


For her husband, Pastor Ben Onyeagoro, it was a question of balance. “We did not want his academics to decline,” he said. But, as the oldest of four siblings, it would be hard to say no to him.

So, after much prayer, and assurances that his grades wouldn’t suffer, the couple acquiesced.

“In our culture, the first son has the highest rights,” explained Onyeagoro’s father of their Nigerian heritage.

Those rights, coupled with his preternatural abilities, earned Onyeagoro a four-star ranking in his debut season, and attention from college scouts across the country.

The Southland high school football season opens Aug. 17-19 with hundreds of games across the Southland. A look at defensive linemen to watch this fall.

Aug. 11, 2023

At 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, Onyeagoro’s size is a visible threat, yet his highlight reel suggests he’s hard to see coming. He’s slippery, getting off the line so quickly he collapses plays in the backfield.

In conversation, he’s quiet and unassuming, with an easy smile. His braces come off next month.


King/Drew coach Joe Torres said Onyeagoro is a standout in a program that contains four or five Division 1-caliber players.

“It’s way beyond football,” Onyeagoro said. “We have a team full of great athletes. We already knew each other, but [coach] taught us to put each other first.”

In their debut season, the Golden Eagles racked up a 9-3 record and a trip to the City Section Division II quarterfinals.

Before being recruited to coach King/Drew’s first football squad in its 41-year history, Torres had never coached at a public school.

He recruited Onyeagoro off the court when he was a starter for King/Drew’s varsity basketball squad.

Onyeagoro was All-City Section on defense as a sophomore. With 19 sacks on the season, he became one of the top-rated edge rushers in the state in his class.


That is almost impossible to believe, “especially for a player that’s never played football,” Torres said.

This offseason, between training camps and college visits, Onyeagoro plans to bulk up, adding 10-15 pounds of muscle to his frame.

“I’m gonna be scary this year,” he said.

That’s fine by Torres, who dubbed his star player the “Nigerian Nightmare,” after former Kansas City Chiefs running back Christian Okoye.

The nickname is blowing up on social media, Onyeagoro said. “People are calling me that now.”

He said the coach encourages his players to tap into their culture. “I wanted to put my culture out there, so I started rolling with it.”

The Onyeagoros came to the U.S. from Nigeria when Chinedu was 18 months old. When the family visits Nigeria again, as they did in 2019, Chinedu is assured this benefit as the firstborn son — the biggest room at the family compound for the entire stay.


He remembers Nigeria was “a lot of fun,” with more family members than he could have imagined.

He keeps a connection to the culture through his mom’s cooking. Jollof rice is his favorite. Onyeagoro’s mom said the traditional dish, a tomato-infused rice with curry and other spices, is a staple.

Here is the Los Angeles Times’ nine-part series on top returning high school football players.

Aug. 14, 2023

There must be rice at all special occasions, she said. Trained in her mother’s restaurant in Nigeria, her meals ensure the family rarely wants to eat out. “We started early giving them our cultural foods,” she said.

“She’s a good cook,” Ben Onyeagoro said.

Their son will grab the occasional In-N-Out Burger if he’s out, but maintaining a 3.6 GPA doesn’t leave much free time. He’ll play Madden football “every now and again.” For inspiration before King/Drew games, he throws on “Loner Life” by NBA YoungBoy.

His sights are set high for this coming season. There’s a list, which includes surpassing 20 sacks.

“I want to win a championship, bring a ring back to King/Drew,” Onyeagoro said. “That would be big, put the program at a very high level.”


Saturday: Bonita linebacker Noah Mikhail.