In a 15-by-2.5-foot hallway in Houston, there is a game of football being played.
There are only two players, but the intensity is that of the Super Bowl. The football is small, almost a toy rather than an actual ball. It is a light blue that can only be described as Oiler blue. With the name of the Houston professional team emblazoned on the side and red stripes running down the seams, the ball is slightly deflated, and the rubber laces are worn down from repeated use. There are only four observers in the stands — which are entirely made up of standard living-room furniture — who look on as the ball gets thrown or kicked across the hall over and over again. The players run into each other.
The bigger and stronger side continues beating the younger and weaker. But play continues.
There is no forfeiting in this game.
Eventually, the frustration boils over, and the tears begin to spill. Because losing to your older brother over and over again isn’t fun. Losing the Lombardi time and time again is something no one would enjoy. So the loser stalks away angrily, and the winner walks over to be greeted by the fans.
Tomorrow, the same game will be played with the same result. And the next day. But this hallway will become too big for the Enwere brothers, and the loser will eventually beat the opponent and capture the glory that so eluded him.
And eventually, Vic Enwere will look back on this and remark on how glad he is that his brother, Ike, pushed him.
Because now he knows how to get back up.
he story of the promising beginning of Vic Enwere’s football career outside his own house changes depending on the narrator, but what is clear is that no one had any idea that his entry into football would stick. It was just something he wanted to do, one of his many sports. But Enwere never starts something he can’t finish — even if it’s just playing football in a hallway.
Having four older, incredibly athletic and smart siblings also pushed Enwere to want to be better and live up to expectations. His siblings all ended up attending academically rigorous institutions. Academics were no joke for the family. They were priorities Nos. 1, 2 and 3.
Of the six children in the Enwere family, all have played sports competitively and played them well. It’s what they do.
“(Enwere is) from a really good family, an incredibly successful family. Brother, sisters, his mom, dad — everyone in the family was just really, really successful and good people,” said Cal offensive coordinator Tony Franklin. “He’s very mature, and his family taught him how to become a man at an early age.”
Having immigrant parents from Nigeria via the United Kingdom, the siblings all grew up in slightly different environments. With immigrant parents who worked extremely long hours — especially when they were young — came the freedom and responsibility of coming home from school and taking care of themselves. This is where both Enwere and his brother recall some of their fondest memories taking place: sitting down and watching cartoons together.
“That’s how our family is structured,” Ike Enwere says. “Our older sister led the way for the sister under her, and she led the way for the one after her, and I was leading the way for him.”
ne day, I saw the display on his computer was a screensaver that changed, and it said, ‘Until you prove otherwise,’ ” says his dad, Pauly Enwere. “He feels like he has a competition ahead of him, (that) he has the grades and successful academics to prove himself.”
And most of the pressure he put upon himself came from the ultimate priority in the Enwere household, the thing that was always put first — academics. But, like at sports, Vic Enwere succeeded at academics in a different way from his siblings and his peers.
Proving what he could do academically was never an issue for Enwere. Although he certainly performed in unconventional ways, school was never the concern for him. The biggest problem he had at school was one that most parents would be dying for their kids to have.
It was too easy.
Often struggling to fit inside the box that his school provided, Enwere continually attempted to submit assignments that were more creative than what his teachers were expecting of their students. Enwere felt that the Texas education system was designed around performing well on tests and not around how students could think outside a certain format or what they could do with a prompt. Some of his teachers had no problem with Enwere using his unique way of thinking, while others disliked that he did not stick to the strict curriculum they had set forth.
“(School was) just very straightforward, and I’m a creative thinker,” Enwere says. “I like to think of things outside of the box. My inside the box is most people’s outside the box. It’s like so far out there, I take myself on trips sometimes.”
Enwere’s different way of thinking also manifested in how he became invested in creative writing, poetry and — above all else — music. But because there were no creative writing courses at his high school, his appreciation for creative outlets came from the very people who influenced him most.
“When I was younger, my older sister, she was crazy about music,” Enwere says. “Her room literally had posters all over the wall of different artists. She introduced me and my brother to Cash Money, actually — that’s Lil Wayne, Birdman. We were just crazy about it. When we were young, we used to just run around with our doo-rags, emulating them.”
For most people, love of music comes from hearing the same songs from the same genres repeatedly, with little diversity. But Enwere’s love comes from being able to recall an emotion he felt with a single song at the drop of a hat. He associates songs with every emotion in the book, and when asked which artists he enjoys listening to most, his replies range from Justin Bieber to Future to Drake and everyone in between.
The range of music that has had an impact on his life gives a glimpse into the effect that music has had on whom he’s become. It’s shaped him.
But his future ended up being formed by the field that would take him all the way to California.
y the time Enwere entered his sophomore year of high school, everything began to change. He was being forced to leave behind the group of people with whom he had played football for the entirety of his life, as his family was moving to a new house. His brother was headed off to college, leaving Vic Enwere the oldest in the house for the first time. His football career was altered when he transferred to Fort Bend Austin High School, where he was placed at defensive back. This wasn’t where he wanted to play.
On top of everything else, the move placed him on a team that won only one game the year before.
During a mediocre season, in which the team missed out on the division playoffs and won only three games, there was a need at running back because of injuries. The coaches decided to try inserting Enwere into the role. And it stuck.
In his junior year, Enwere went on to lead a team that was in desperate need of a spark. Rushing for 1,509 yards and 16 touchdowns, Enwere led his team to a 7-4 record and an appearance in the 5A State playoffs. Individually, he earned honorable mention All-State and First-Team All-District 5A honors, in addition to being named the district’s offensive MVP.
All from someone who wasn’t even slated to start at the position the year before.
But bigger than the accolades and the impressive record was the community brought together by the success of the football team.
“It was a great feeling to have everyone in the town talking about the team and everybody wanting to go to the games and everybody wanting to be supportive,” Enwere says, “because we had an opportunity to win every time we played, and it was an amazing feeling, changing that.”
To follow up his climate- and team-changing performance in his first full year as the starting running back, Enwere had an even more impressive senior year. With more than 2,300 all-purpose yards and a program-record-setting 34 touchdowns, he became the first-ever player to win a district title and be named district MVP.
For a kid who fell upon football and whose talents at running back weren’t realized until late in his high school career, this was more than anyone could have expected. But it was the impact he had — helping make a mediocre team into a good one — that really made its mark.
With this early experience, Enwere became accustomed to the spotlight in a short amount of time. Because of the importance of high school football in Texas, the pressure was nothing new when he became a running back at Cal. Crowds at high school games in Texas mimic the size and vibrancy of crowds at Memorial Stadium games.
Part of this experience is what has made Enwere into such a confident person. He knows school is easy for him and isn’t afraid to acknowledge it. He also knows that he has always been qualified to be a starting running back.
“I could have gone to a school where people were already winning, and I would have just gone in, and I could have been really good and then left,” Enwere says. “I wouldn’t really leave my mark because they are used to winning. I wanted to go where they were 1-11 and we can turn it around and really leave a mark in history and people remember that for years to come.”
There is a level of competition involved in a running back corps that is composed of players vying for the starting role in 2016. But with senior Daniel Lasco’s injury, the group is learning to work together and bring its own unique characteristics to the table.
“(Enwere) is kind of the fun one,” says Cal run-game coordinator Brandon Jones. “He’s always dancing, he’s always in a good mood, he’s always smiling — he’s definitely the life of the party.”
t’s Sept. 19, and the sun is blazing. As is typical for late summer in Austin, Texas, the humidity is unrelenting. He places his headphones in his ears, but for now, only mellow music comes out.
The weather only intensifies as the day goes on and the throngs of people clad in bright orange-and-white apparel crowd into Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Pads out, cleats on, and it’s time to walk out on that field. Headphones are still in, but now hype music is blaring through his ears. All Enwere is waiting for is the first snap. But don’t blink — only more than 90,000 are watching, including his closest family and friends.
The Cal football team is playing in its first away game of the season halfway across the country in enemy territory. But to Enwere, none of this matters. He is all in. It could be 1,000 degrees outside and today would still be a great day.
No. An amazing day.
Because for his whole life, he has been doing things his own way — not quite the orthodox way of doing it. And today, he gets to perform in front of his entire family, his friends from the area and about half of his high school, all back in his home state, against a Longhorns team that he used to love as a child.
It’s his first day as a starting running back in a collegiate football game.
“It’s indescribable, probably more than anything — just sensational,” Enwere says. “Just an amazing feeling, one that you can’t put into words.”
Alaina Getzenberg covers football. Contact her at [email protected]