With world-class speed, first-year Che Nwabuko looks to leave his mark on both Pitt football and track


Image via Matt Hawley, Pitt Athletics

Che Nwabuko at the Indoor Track and Field ACC Championships on Feb. 24.

By Alex Porter, Staff Writer

Che Nwabuko, first-year wide receiver and sprinter, aims to make his dreams a reality. He hopes to compete in the Olympics as soon as next year and plans to run a top-10 40-yard dash time at the NFL combine someday.

To some, these goals might seem lofty. But those who know Nwabuko will tell you that — with his hard work and determination — he can achieve anything.

Nwabuko’s journey began in Austin, Texas, when he started playing football at four years old. Football always took precedence in his life, as it’s something his whole family took part in. His older brother, Chux Nwabuko III, a running back at Texas Tech, became his role model, and his father, Chux Nwabuko II, acts as his trainer.  

“So, with an older brother, you always have someone to look up to,” Nwabuko said. “They can really support and be there to teach you. It was a huge part of everything, especially with his experience.”

Nwabuko committed a day after his only official visit to Pitt. The Panthers’ loyalty, combined with a genuine belief in his abilities, made them stand out amongst offers that included Michigan and Michigan State.

“They always showed love, showed interest in me and never gave up on me,” Nwabuko said. “So I always stuck with them, and they always stuck with me.” 

When Nwabuko committed to Pitt, he not only committed to playing football but also committed to Pitt’s track and field team. For Nwabuko, track started as just a way to stay in shape during the offseason. He described competing in a few track meets in middle school.

“I just started showing up and started winning,” Nwabuko said.

Over the years, he started putting increased work into track. His efforts culminated in a record-breaking senior year. Nwabuko won three state gold medals that track season in the 100m, 200m and 4x400m. In the process, he set the all-time school records for the 100m and 200m dash, forever cementing himself in Texas Manor history. After breaking the two records, track and field became an essential part of Nwabuko’s life.

“It was something I worked really hard for, really put a lot of time into, and really showed me that I could accomplish my goals,” Nwabuko said. “That season is one of my best accomplishments.”

As track became more important to him, competing in both football and track became increasingly Nwabuko. The track and field staff played a significant role in his recruitment. “He wanted to do both coming out of high school, and he was planning on being a dual sport athlete the entire time,” assistant coach Tevin Hester said. “So, we were very heavily involved in just making sure he felt welcomed from both ends of the spectrum.”

After traveling over 1,400 miles to Pittsburgh, Nwabuko feels comfortable already. He reports no major differences between Austin and Pittsburgh. So far, he appreciates the bridges, wishing to bring them home to Texas, and wants to get rid of snow, replacing it with more warm weather and barbecues. Even while playing two Division 1 sports on top of his first, Nwabuko is more than up to the challenge. 

“It’s not difficult at all,” Nwabuko said.“You just need to focus on keeping a good balance, focusing on your agenda, and staying organized even when it does really get stacked upon you,” he said.

However, coach Hester noted that splitting time between football and track resulted in some challenges.

“Football had him the entire fall,” Hester said.  “So our team usually trains through the fall to prepare for the indoor and outdoor season. But he wasn’t able to be there due to football obligations. So it’s pretty hard to do some of the things we know he’s very well capable of.”

But Hester said communication was key in helping Nwabuko balance both football and track.

“We’ve been able to communicate pretty well with both Che and the football team,” Hester said. “It’s something we knew would happen. It’s nothing we are upset about or didn’t expect.”

Ultimately, Nwabuko overcame the challenges of balancing two sports with confidence and hard work.

“He has a great work ethic,” Hester said. “He’s very confident. We may be in a tough position with football. But at the same time, whenever you put them in the arena with some of the top athletes in the conference, he already shows up, so he’s never one to shy away from the competition.” 

In addition to an unmatchable work ethic, Nwabuko remains humble while possessing impressive accomplishments.

“I always say how respectful and how selfless he is,” Hester said. “He’s a team player, he’s not looking to get all the limelight himself, but he wants to be a part of something special, and he’s very respectful.” 

His humility potentially originated from this past football season. While you’d expect most players to emphasize their growth on the field, Nwabuko emphasized his growth as a person.

“I’m not going to lie, I learned how just to be a better person,” Nwabuko said. “Seeing those guys going to the draft, for example, Calijah Kancey and Brandon Hill, and how they carry themselves really just motivates you to take what you do seriously and be professional about it.”

In both football and track, teammates played a significant role in Nwabuko’s progression. Fellow sprinter sophomore Nigel Hussey seems to already bond over friendly competition. Hussey said Nwabuko’s presence made him and the entire team better.

“It’s always iron sharpens iron,” Hussey said. “Once he came, it’s like, Okay, cool, you got to step your game up, and so does he. He’s always making the whole team better.” 

While Nwabuko pushed Hussey to new heights, Hussey made sure Nwabuko caught up to speed — even during football season. Hester said Hussey is a great teammate and mentor for Nwabuko.

“Nigel let’s [Nwabuko] come in and see the details it takes to be great,” Hester said. “Because Nigel already possesses that, being in the program for years. He shoulders Che, taking him through warmups, showing him the right way to do things.”

From bettering the team to learning the small details, Nwabuko achieved all of his goals this season. His hard work is already showing in Pitt’s record book, as Nwabuko ranks in the top-three 60m and 200m times in program history. 

Nwabuko was not the only Panther to find success this indoor season.he whole team benefited from their hours of practice. The ACC Championship in Louisville became the moment when the team’s work culminated, as the Panthers came home with six new entries in their all-time top 10

Hester, Hussey and Nwabuko all expected this result — emphasizing that the record-breaking weekend came from months of hard work. Of course, still a moment worth celebration, as their efforts paid off. Hussey said the ACC championship was an exciting time for the program.

“At the ACCs, everybody was ready,” Hester said. “Everybody showed up. Everyone PR’d. Plus, this was my first time in this atmosphere with all the fans and all the noise. It was crazy, man. I loved every second.”

Now that the indoor season finished, Nwabuko returned to the football teams for spring training, while the track team returned to practice for their outdoor season.

As just a first-year, Nwabuko’s many talents should excite Pitt fans. With his world-class speed, he may just become a Panther legend.