Derrick Nnadi taps into wisdom and drive of his true hero, his Nigerian-born father

Derrick Nnadi has been in the news recently for two reasons- He was part of the Kansas City Chiefs team that won the Super Bowl. He also sponsored the adoption of 109 dogs to celebrate the win. Derrick Nnadi has always had one hero. His Nigerian-born father.

By Nate Taylor 

Every day, Derrick Nnadi talks to his father for encouragement, and every morning, Fred Nnadi tries to think of just the correct words to share with his son through text messages.

With the help of his father, Derrick has successfully navigated every level of football he has played in life. The defensive tackle arrived at the Chiefs’ training camp Sunday and began his rookie season by asking his father for more wisdom. Fred reminded his son of the NFL draft in April, and how being selected by the Chiefs was his gateway to prove himself in the league.

Throughout their chats this week, Fred has asked one question to motivate his son: Have you done your job?

When it comes to inspiration, Derrick is speaking with the right man. Fred, a 63-year-old Nigerian immigrant, has become an American citizen, made a successful career in engineering and has raised seven children into adulthood with his wife, Christy.

“My father is probably the hardest-working person I’ve ever met in my life,” Derrick said Tuesday. “He’s told me tons and tons of stories.”

Each story holds a lesson, a reminder of how success is developed from determination.

Derrick, listed at 6-foot-1 and 312 pounds, wants to become an immediate contributor for the Chiefs, a player strong enough to help improve the team’s run defense. He has spent hours learning the playbook. He has taken notes during meetings when defensive coordinator Bob Sutton goes through the plays. Derrick wants to play as many snaps as he can in practice to polish his techniques. He plans to earn his way into the Chiefs’ defensive line rotation.

Before camp, Derrick, 22, wondered what gesture he could do for his father to demonstrate his appreciation. When Fred learned of Derrick’s intentions, he explained to his son that he didn’t want anything material.

“In this career, there are going to be a lot of people that are going to call, and every time they call you, they’re going to want something,” Fred told Derrick. “As your father, if I call you, the only thing I want you to do is be a better you.”


When he was young, Fred said the biggest attribute he learned from his father was courage. John Nnadi was a tribal chief in Nigeria who had several wives and many children.

“My father was a very wealthy man,” Fred said in a telephone interview Thursday. “When I was growing up, we were privileged.”

Nigeria, however, changed in 1967 when the country broke into a civil war to become an independent nation from the United Kingdom. As the government’s conscription increased, Fred, a teenager at the time, wanted to join the army to fight in the war. Fred was grateful his father didn’t discourage him, and from that moment on, he wanted to improve his life.

Fred arrived in America with his brother in 1978 and became an engineering student at Old Dominion. He grew to love the country, even though the culture was completely different. In 1980, Fred made Virginia Beach, Va., his home. Christy followed Fred from Nigeria, and the family grew; Derrick became the couple’s youngest child on May 9, 1996.

Derrick was big from the start. He wanted to run on the track and field team in middle school, but the school didn’t have a uniform that fit Derrick’s large frame. The team that could give him a proper uniform was the football team, so as an eighth grader, Derrick began to understand and enjoy the sport. So did his father.

“I love football, and I always have an opinion,” said Fred, who grew up playing soccer. “I’m just like every person who watches the game.”

Fred attended every game Derrick played at Ocean Lakes High in Virginia Beach. As one of the biggest players on the field, Derrick was encouraged by Fred to dominate his opponent at the line of scrimmage. Together, the father and son created a mantra for Derrick to remember on the field: “When you get to the field, nobody is better than you, nobody is bigger than you, nobody is stronger than you.”

“I would say, ‘You have to remember you are better than anybody else, and you have to be,’” Fred said. “I went on and on, and I didn’t know if he would pick it up.”

Derrick did. He become one of the best defensive linemen in the country during his senior year when he recorded 20 sacks and 71 tackles while receiving scholarship offers from several powerhouse programs. Derrick learned the nuances of the game quickly, and though he has a gentle personality, he became a fierce competitor both on the field and in the weight room.

“He’s one of the most talented athletes I’ve had here, but also one of the hardest-working,” Ocean Lakes coach Chris Scott told The Virginian-Pilot in February 2014.

At Florida State, Derrick impressed his coaches with his willingness to accept criticism and listen when being taught something new. Fred would advise Derrick that the player’s voice didn’t matter when it came to the coaches, the men who controlled his playing time.

In his four seasons at Florida State, Derrick played in 48 games and collected 165 tackles to go along with eight sacks. He was one of the most consistent defensive players on the field — and he became one of the toughest and strongest. As a junior, Derrick benched 525 pounds and squatted 750 pounds. All of his teammates, in amazement, agreed, listing him as the strongest player on the team in a poll on Rivals.com.

More importantly to Fred: Derrick graduated in December with a bachelor’s degree in social science.

“You want to be the best of the best of the best of the best of the best,” Derrick said, repeating the phrase his father used to tell him. “You’ve got to say it five times.”

Once Derrick shifted his focus toward the NFL — with the potential to earn millions — Fred shared a personal story from a time before his youngest son was born.

In 1992, Fred was pursuing his master’s degree in engineering. In order to have a better career, he had to quit his job to go back to school. Christy, who had three children at home at the time, couldn’t work, either. For almost a year, Fred and his family had to live on just $2,000. He took a loan for his education and bought used clothes for his children.

The meal Fred remembers his family eating the most back then was rice and bread.

“My first daughter used to say, ‘When are we going to eat meat in this house?’” Fred said. “She was very, very young. I said, ‘Don’t worry, it will come some day.’”

In 1993, Fred earned his master’s degree. He started a new job soon thereafter and paid back his student loan debt in three years.

“I thank God,” Fred said. “It was the worst year. I don’t know how we survived, but we did. I remember filling the refrigerator (after that). We had meat.”

No matter how much money Derrick makes in his NFL career, his father’s story teaches him that what matters most is how well he manages his priorities. Beyond the financial struggles his father once went through, Derrick is most proud that the biggest attribute he learned from his father is perseverance.

“All my siblings are having wonderful lives right now,” he said. “It’s all thanks to him and my mother being great parents.”


Since the draft, the color red has become a dominant one inside Fred’s house. He has placed the Chiefs’ emblem in several rooms. A Chiefs flag flies in the front yard. Fred is eager to see his son play in his first NFL game.

“This is Chiefs Kingdom,” Fred said of his home. “We are very, very happy for Derrick. He’s a good kid, but the good kid doesn’t just stop. I’m going to continue talking to him.”

Fred admits he talks to Derrick these days a bit more often than his older children. The next task he wants his son to focus on is the correct business approach he must have off the field. Everything in camp, Fred tells his son, matters. How are you talking to people? How attentive are you in meetings? If an issues arises, how will you help resolve it?

Derrick hopes his positive attitude and commitment to improve will be noticed by his coaches and older teammates.

“In this business, how I see it, you get what you put in,” he said. “If you want to play, you can put in as much as you want to get on the field. If you don’t really care about it, you’re not going to do as much as studying film, you’re not going to care as much when you’re on the practice field, you’re not going to care about what food you put into your body. You’re not going to worry about how much sleep you’re getting. It’s about how much you really want to get on the field.”

When Derrick talks with his mother at night, he can hear her smile and joy on the phone, which at times has made him emotional. His father, though, remains steady.

On Thursday morning, Derrick received his daily text message, the one that’s always meant to motivate him.

“Prove yourself every day,” Fred wrote to his son. “Have you done your job?”

By Nate Taylor Jul 27, 2018

Read from source The Athletic

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