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The Journal Gazette

  • Courtesy Indiana University Indiana redshirt freshman offensive lineman Mackenzie Nworah, right, has royal lineage and a passion to help his autistic brother and the Hoosiers.

Friday, October 13, 2017 1:00 am

Hoosiers have prince of a lineman

Uncle's king of Nigerian town

Ben Portnoy | For The Journal Gazette

Michigan at Indiana

When: Noon Saturday

Where: Memorial Stadium, Bloomington

TV: ABC Radio: 1250 AM

To a number of Indiana coaches and players, offensive lineman Mackenzie Nworah is best known as “Prince.” But it's not a connection to the famous pop-singer that earned the redshirt-freshman his moniker – Nworah is quite literally royalty.

“I think coach (Mark) Hagen calls him 'Prince,' and he doesn't respond to it,” sophomore Coy Cronk said. “So, I don't know what the situation is there, but I definitely heard it. But he has yet to elaborate on it, so I might have to get to the bottom of that one.”

Elaborating on the mystery Cronk set out to solve, Nworah explained that his grandfather was in line to be the next king of his village in Nigeria. However, internal politics that went against his devout Christian values left the elder Nworah to defer the throne to his brother.

“Some of the coaches, they just call me 'Prince,' and I already know who they're talking to,” Nworah said with a laugh. “They kind of joke around with it a little bit.”

Though being a prince is undoubtedly unique, Nworah's royal lineage only scratches the surface of understanding a man who could easily stake claim to most interesting player on the IU football roster.

A native of Houston, Nworah's parents both immigrated to the United States. Christian, Mackenzie's father, came directly from Nigeria. Nworah's mother, Evelyn, was born in London to parents of Nigerian heritage. Nworah is also one of three kids, joined by his younger sister and older brother.

The tight-knit relationship between Nworah and his siblings, particularly his brother, cannot be understated. Obi, who is a year Mackenzie's senior, was born with autism – but as Mackenzie is quick to note, that's never stopped him from being another one of the kids.

“Running around and playing we'd always bring him into it and he'd have a lot of fun,” Nworah said. “And sometimes we'd even forget that he even had any special needs or anything.”

In response to his brother's condition, Nworah and his parents decided to help raise awareness for autism by starting the CrisMachelle Autism Foundation. The foundation was established after the Nworahs set up an autism awareness event for Houstonians with African backgrounds for Obi's 18th birthday, according to the organization's website. After a number of people in attendance approached the Nworahs seeking help, the family decided to start the foundation to help their community.

“It was great, especially working with my brother, getting him to the point he is to now, talking to other students in my school who may have siblings with special needs, showing them that if you care for them a lot and you help them and always be there and have their back, then they can improve a lot,” Nworah said of working with the foundation.

Nworah, a redshirt freshman, has appeared in four games this season, including starts against Georgia Southern and Charleston Southern. Offensive line coach Darren Hiller thinks Nworah is just beginning his transformation as a football player.

“I think the ceiling for Mackenzie is really high,” Hiller said. “He's just got to exude more confidence and he's got to know that he can do it, which he can.”

Hiller sees a lot of former University of Cincinnati offensive tackle Justin Murray in Nworah. Hiller said he uses Murray, or “J-Murr” as he refers to his former player, as a benchmark for what Nworah can be.

“J-Murr would just kind of sit in the meetings and wouldn't do a lot of talking and all those things, but by the time the third year there he was a senior and he had a smile on his face and you could just kind of see him, he came out of his shell,” Hiller said. “And I talk to Mackenzie about him and I've used those parallels with him.”

Now as Nworah starts to gain the consistency and confidence Hiller has emphasized, it appears the future of the Hoosiers' offensive line will be in both capable and royal hands.

“What he's been able to do I'm proud of him so far,” Cronk said of Nworah. “And if he continues to play like that I think he's going to have a really good career.”