OSU football: Chekwa finishes where he started
The first time Chimdi Chekwa's name appeared in newspapers was long before he became a standout cornerback for Ohio State.
It goes back years before he was featured for helping East Ridge High School in Clermont, Fla., reach the state playoffs in 2004 and 2005, and for the recruiting interest that followed.
Instead, the initial public mention of Chekwa occurred in June 1997, when the New Orleans Times-Picayune ran a list of which students earned the highest grades in the 1996-97 school year at Westbank Cathedral Elementary School.
Chekwa was among the third-graders so honored.
Later, the papers mentioned his helping Westbank win the boys flag football championship. He then appeared on the honor roll at Ellender Middle School, and for helping Ellender win a track and field championship.
Chekwa spent nearly 14 years of his life in the New Orleans area, which makes next Tuesday's Sugar Bowl appearance against Arkansas a special game for the fifth-year senior and his family.
He will play his last collegiate game in the city where he first played the sport.
"We have fond memories there," said his father, Charles Chekwa. "He's going where the whole thing started for him."
Charles and Eunice Chekwa raised six kids, moving from Mississippi to New Orleans when Chimdi was a baby, then in 2002 to the Orlando, Fla., area, where they still live.
One of Chimdi's brothers, Chukwu, lives in Lafayette, La., about two hours west of New Orleans, and the family has plenty of friends in the area, as well. Chimdi said he still considers New Orleans home.
"All my family are in the South, so a lot of them will be able to come to the game and support me," he said. "It's a good little homecoming for me."
And to make it sweeter, he's coming home as an All-American. Chekwa was named to the second team this season by the Walter Camp Foundation.
It's not surprising when viewing his career on paper: Since earning regular time as the nickel back as a redshirt freshman in 2007, he has compiled 38 starts. He has 31 passes defensed and six interceptions, including three this season.
But it hasn't all been sweetness and light. Chekwa slumped late in his junior season in 2009, giving up some plays and committing his share of pass interference penalties.
"Chim is a very good ballplayer, you can't take nothing from him," safety Jermale Hines said. "I mean, guys caught a couple balls on him, but hey, it's football - he's in man-to-man coverage, a lot of guys are going to catch balls on you."
As a senior, Chekwa rebounded, although still flagged at times. He was noticeably more physical, both in the run game and battling with receivers. The Buckeyes are fourth nationally in pass defense (156.3 yards per game) and lead the Big Ten in pass-defense efficiency.
Chekwa is a modest guy. He said he felt his All-American award might have been based more on the defense's prowess as a unit.
"The entire defense played real good," he said, "so I really feel like I'm representing the defense in this honor."
He might be right. OSU lacked big-name stars, so voters might have looked at the Buckeyes' success and figured somebody must be doing something right.
"He's a workmanlike guy, just a quiet guy that is always where he's supposed to be and doing what he's supposed to do," coach Jim Tressel said. "I think he's deserving of the recognition."
As a high school senior, Chekwa had scholarship offers from virtually every Atlantic Coast Conference school, as well as several in the Southeastern Conference. He chose Ohio State because of the long history of Buckeyes cornerbacks who went to the NFL, from Shawn Springs to Antoine Winfield to Nate Clements to Malcolm Jenkins, who now plays for Chekwa's favorite team, the New Orleans Saints.
"I'm happy to be able to uphold the tradition, but I've still got one more job to do," Chekwa said. "After I'm done, I'll be able to look back at what I've done and be a little more excited about it."