As a small child in the African country of Zimbabwe, he dreamed of playing American football. Fast forward several years, and the now Texas resident is the first true freshman to start at safety for Clemson University since records started being kept in 1973.
Andrew Mukuba has a unique past compared to many college football players after immigrating from Zimbabwe when he was nine. but that background and his mom’s hard work and passion for life, drive him every day to be better than the last in everything he does.
Clemson’s starting safety, met with the media for the first time earlier this week and talked about his childhood, the struggles his mother faced as a single parent, and his love of football.
“I came here when I was nine. I was born in Zimbabwe. My parents and family are from the Congo,” Mukuba told the media last week.
“I lived with a single parent — my mom. My dad is still around. I’ve got two little brothers and a sister. I’ve got an older brother and sister. We came here for a better life because back home, it was kind of rough with everything going on. We were just trying to find a better life. I really don’t know how we ended up here because I was young during the process. We went on with life. Positive things happen, a couple of bad things happen. It was a difficult process, but there are a lot of positive things going on. I just feel like we’re blessed as a family.
“It was really tough for her as a single parent, and that’s why I love her so much and have a lot of respect for her and everything she does. Everything I do, I think about her, and it makes me go harder because I owe her a lot for everything she did for the whole family. It was tough on her for sure.”
Mukuba gets his work ethic from his mother, who has been working as a housekeeper since his family moved to Austin.
“When she got here, she was working at a hotel,” Mukuba said of his mother.
“She worked housekeeping at a hotel in downtown Austin right across the street from the UT (University of Texas) campus. She’s been doing that ever since we got here, and she’s been able to provide for all of us.”
It was his upbringing and the way Mukuba goes about his business that made the Clemson Tigers defensive coordinator Brent Venables quickly take notice.
“He’s easy to pull for, such a remarkable young guy,” Venables said of Mukuba. “First and foremost, he kind of epitomises what we want our program to be about and getting our players to think the right away and have the kind of perspective and thankfulness and see the positive as opposed to the negative, and let anything he’s gone through bad growing up or seen family members go through, that he’s allowed that to fuel him and develop him instead of destroy or define him. From the very first conversation I remember having with him, he knew so much about Clemson. Like what we’re really about, not the winning but everything else.”
Mukuba grew up watching American football but didn’t really start playing until moving to Texas. Once he got to high school, he quickly realized he might have a future in the game.
“I started playing football during the summer of sixth grade,” Mukuba said.
“Me and my little brother always watched football growing up. My parents didn’t really want me to play football because of the aggressiveness and stuff. In sixth grade, when I started playing little league, I just fell in love with it. Growing up, I was just fascinated. I was a running back growing up. As I got older, things kind of changed, the competition got better, so in high school, I started focusing on football, myself, and my position so I could get better so I could get a stage like this and play in games like this.”
The focus paid off as his name is now in the record books at Clemson University as a true freshman starter.
While football got him to this point, Mukuba also wants to get his education to repay his mother for all her sacrifices and hard work one day.
An education is probably the most important thing, but also going to the league is my dream.