Tomorrow, October 28, is National Immigrants Day, a day that was first observed in 1987 after President Ronald Reagan signed into law Senate Joint Resolution 86. That bill designated October 28 — the anniversary of the dedication of the Statue of Liberty — as the annual date for that observance, and it was sponsored by Senator Dennis DeConcini (Democrat - Arizona), whose paternal grandparents were Italian immigrants. The first paragraph of President Reagan’s resulting proclamation read, “Our national celebration of Immigrants Day is a moving reminder to us that America is unique among the nations. We are the sons and daughters of every land across the face of the Earth, yet we are an indivisible Nation. We are one people, and we are one in that which drew our forebears here — the love of ‘freedom’s holy Light.’”
With this being the week that will end with National Immigrants Day 2023, I thought it a good time to delve into a subject within the history of Texas Longhorn football that has been of interest to me: UT football players who came from an immigrant background. Mention that topic to most Longhorn fans today and they’ll probably first think of the many standouts of Nigerian ancestry who have donned burnt orange over the past two decades. Also coming to mind may be the recent pair of Australian punters, or possibly even the two offensive linemen of the past few years whose parents were European immigrants. But the list of UT football players who were foreign-born or had foreign-born parents goes back much further in time than that, and the full history of immigrant or first-generation American Longhorns provides many individual illustrations of historic immigration patterns from the past 150 years of not just Texas history but American history. Similar posts could certainly be written about Longhorns across other sports as well.
The very first varsity football team at the University of Texas was fielded in 1893, and it had two regular starters who had fathers born in England. In the first five decades of the football program’s history there were dozens of players who had parents or grandparents born in Germany or the British Isles.
All told, UT’s football program has had players who were born in Australia, Canada, Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), England, Ireland, Jamaica, Kuwait, Laos, Liberia, Mexico, Nigeria, Scotland, Sweden, and likely other nations.
Aside from the countries already mentioned, there have been Longhorns who had at least one parent born in present-day Bosnia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Egypt, Eritrea, France, Ghana, Hungary, India, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lebanon, Lithuania, and Romania.
Going back one generation further for the players who were second-generation Americans, there are Longhorns who have had at least one grandparent born in some of the aforementioned countries, as well as Austria, Finland, Greece, and Switzerland. But, as interesting as the many stories are of Longhorns who merely had grandparents born overseas, for purposes of this piece I’ll be limiting its focus to players who had at least one foreign-born parent.
There are almost certainly other countries represented among the birthplaces of past Longhorns and their parents, but those listed above are just the ones I’ve found through my own research. “What starts here changes the world”, says a long-running University of Texas brand campaign that debuted 19 years ago. It’s just as accurate to say that a lot of great things have resulted from “the world” coming “here” to Austin.
Below is a list of players from throughout the history of University of Texas football who were either born outside of the United States or who had at least one parent who was, and thus they would have more reason than most to celebrate an occasion like National Immigrants Day. This list has a number of program greats, including several all-conference and All-American performers, no less than ten team captains and six UT Athletics Hall of Honor inductees. The program would not have had the same level of success without their contributions.
The year(s) in parentheses represent when each player won a letter with a UT football team, or in the case of a few non-lettermen it will have in italics the years they were part of the program. The players are listed in chronological order from oldest to most recent according to the year of their first varsity letter. If you know of others who fit into this group, please mention them in the comments.
University of Texas football players with an immigrant background
Richard Unett “Dick” Lee (1893)
The left halfback on UT’s first varsity football team, Lee was born in Arkansas to an Arkansan mother and an English father. His father, the Rev. Thomas Booth Lee, was an Oxford-educated Anglican minister who moved to the United States in the late 1860s and was the rector at St. David’s Church in Austin for the last 37 years of his life.
John William Philp (1893)
He was the left guard on UT’s first football team and started all four games in that inaugural season. He was born in Caldwell, Texas, but lived for most of his life in Dallas, and like Dick Lee he had an English father and an Arkansan mother. In 1914, Philp was the Republican Party’s nominee in the race for Texas Governor, but finished in third place with just 5.3% of the vote. Democrat James Ferguson won handily with just under 82% of the votes tallied, while the Socialist candidate E.R. Meitzen garnered 11.59%. Needless to say, it was a different time. (Please don’t take that last factoid as an invitation to fill the comments with political nonsense.)
Jacob Eugene Michalson (1894-95)
He played halfback on two of UT’s earliest football teams and was also a member of UT’s first varsity baseball team in 1895. He was a graduate of Dallas High School, and was the American-born son of immigrants of Jewish ancestry who came to the U.S. in the 1860s from present-day Latvia, which was then part of the Russian Empire.
John O’Keefe (1895)
A native of Fannin County (which is northeast of Dallas and bordering the Red River), O’Keefe grew up in Honey Grove and was the son of Irish immigrants. He attended UT as a law student and was a halfback on the 1895 football team, and also played catcher and shortstop for the first UT varsity baseball teams in 1895 and 1896. He was the captain of the 1895 baseball team and the team’s manager in both seasons he played on it. For unknown reasons, his name was deleted from the UT football program’s all-time lettermen list when it was updated in 2001, and it has not reappeared on the list since then.
Walter Schreiner (1896-1900)
He was born in Kerrville, Texas to a French father and a German mother. His father, Charles Armond Schreiner, was the founder of the Schreiner Institute in Kerrville, which is now Schreiner University. He played end on UT’s football teams in an era when there were not yet established rules on eligibility limits, and he became the program’s first five-year letterman. In his fifth and final season he was the captain of the 1900 team, which went undefeated and was for many years considered the best team in school history.
Alexander Galpin “A.G.” Blacklock (1897)
He came to UT as a law student in 1897 after graduating from the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, where he had been a three-sport athlete and twice a football captain. Blacklock played quarterback on UT’s 1897 football team and was also a player on the 1898 baseball team. He was born in England and moved with his family to the United States at around age 7.
Carl Groos (1897-1898)
He was a San Antonio native who came to UT from the San Antonio Academy and played fullback on two teams from the late 1890s. Groos’s father and his maternal grandparents were all German immigrants.
John Robert Swenson (1902)
He was born in Sweden in 1870, and moved with his family to the United States when he was 11 years old. He went to high school in Iowa, attended and played football at the University of Denver in the mid-1890s, and later enrolled at Texas as a graduate student and played guard on its 1902 football team. He was that team’s heaviest player at 6’1 and 200 pounds, and at age 32 he was the oldest football letterman UT had ever had up to that point. I wrote about Swenson at the end of a BON post a year ago this month.
Richard Pantermuehl (1903)
He won a letter playing fullback on UT’s 1903 team, and was also a three-year track & field letterman. He was born and raised in a Comal County community then referred to as Smithson’s Valley. His parents were both German immigrants, as was most of Smithson’s Valley’s population. Little remains today of that community’s site, which was less than two miles east of today’s Smithson Valley High School.
Henry Fink (1905-06)
He was born and raised in the Leon Springs community near San Antonio, and while at UT he was a two-year letterman playing end on the football team, and also won three letters in track & field. His father and both of his maternal grandparents were born in Germany.
Magnus Mainland (1905-06)
He was born in 1879 and was a native of the Orkney Islands of northern Scotland. He and his family moved to Wisconsin in the late 1890s, and later after spending a year as an undergrad at Wheaton College in Illinois he transferred to UT to study engineering. He played guard on the Longhorn football team and won two letters in that sport, and he was also both a player and the head coach of UT’s first varsity basketball team in 1906. He had previously been a member of Wheaton College’s basketball team, which participated in the 1904 Summer Olympics, at which basketball made its first appearance as a demonstration sport. I previously wrote about Mainland in this piece two years ago.
James Harley (1907)
He enrolled at UT as a law student after previously attending Christian Brothers College, a Catholic prep school in St. Louis, Missouri, and he played end on the 1907 Longhorn team. He was born in Seguin to parents who had immigrated to the U.S. from Ireland 13 years earlier.
Emil Stieler (1907-09)
He hailed from Comfort, Texas, and was born to a German father and a Texan mother whose own parents were born in Germany and France. He came to UT after graduating from St. Louis College, which originally operated as an all-male boarding school on the west side of San Antonio that served as a separate campus of St. Mary’s College (which was then in downtown San Antonio), but in 1921 all college students at St. Mary’s were transferred to the St. Louis College campus, which is today the campus of St. Mary’s University. Stieler was a member of the Longhorn football team for four years and won three letters, and in his final two seasons he was a regular starter at left guard. He graduated from Texas with both a B.A. and an M.A., but died in a tragic hunting accident in 1910.
Edgar Harold (1910-11) and Marion Harold (1911)
The Harold brothers were natives of Blanco, and both were starters on UT’s 1911 football team. Edgar started games at right guard and right tackle, and Marion started at least one game at those same positions but was not an every-week starter like his brother. The two were quite old compared with most of their UT classmates, as Edgar was 27 and Marion was 29 during the 1911 season. Their father was the son of Irish immigrants, while their mother was born in England and immigrated to the U.S. as a teenager.
Louis Jordan (1911-14)
He was a native of Fredericksburg, Texas, and his mother and both of his paternal grandparents were German immigrants. Jordan was a star at guard for the Longhorns for four years, and as a senior in 1914 he was the team captain and became the first player from a southern college to make Walter Camp’s All-America second team. In 1957 he became the very first athlete inducted into the UT Athletics Hall of Honor. Well into the 1920s (and probably even later) he would have been a unanimous selection for an All-Time UT Football lineup.
Edward Young Boynton (1916)
E.Y. Boynton played tackle for the Longhorns and won his only letter in 1916. He was a native of Waco, where his Canadian-born father had moved in 1886.
Bibb Falk (1918-19)
He was born in Austin to Swedish immigrant parents, and came to UT after graduating from Austin High School. He was a two-year football letterman and the team’s starting right tackle in 1919, but more famously he was a baseball star and the first Longhorn to have a sustained career in Major League Baseball. He later returned to his alma mater and was UT’s longtime head baseball coach, leading the program to its first two College World Series championships and eight other CWS appearances. He is the partial namesake of Disch-Falk Field, the home of UT baseball.
Axel Magnus Godfrey “Swede” Swenson (1918, 20-22)
A.M.G. Swenson was born in Jones County in west Texas to Swedish immigrant parents, and he lived for most of his youth in Stamford. He played center on the Longhorn football team for four seasons and was the team captain in 1922. He was named to the All-Southwest Conference team three times during his college career. Later, he was appointed to the UT Board of Regents by Governor Beauford Jester (the namesake of the Jester Center dormitory on the UT campus), and he served on the Board from 1947 to 1953. He was inducted into the UT Athletics Hall of Honor in 1964.
George Gardere (1922)
He came to UT from Marlin High School, and was the son of a French immigrant father. He was a member of the Longhorn football team for multiple seasons and won his only letter after starting three games at quarterback in 1922. His grandson Peter Gardere was later a four-year starting QB for Texas.
Albert Nemir (1929)
Nemir was an Austin High School grad who played guard on the 1929 Longhorn team. His parents were Lebanese immigrants.
Hubert “Buster” Jurecka (1933-35)
He’s the only UT football letterman to come from Robstown High School, and was one of two Longhorn players nicknamed “Buster” during his years on the team, the other being Arthur “Buster” Baebel, who, as it happens, had a grandfather born in Prussia. Jurecka played halfback for the Longhorns and was also one of the team’s best passers during his time. His parents were both born in the present-day Czech Republic, which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Jake Verde (1934)
A small but speedy halfback from Beaumont, Verde was the son of Italian immigrants. The family’s last name was spelled “Verdi” in early census records, but Jake’s last name was spelled “Verde” by his college years. He graduated from South Park High School in Beaumont before starring on the gridiron for Lamar Junior College (now Lamar University), which inducted him into its Hall of Honor in 1978. He played for one season with the Longhorns in 1934 after transferring from Lamar, but didn’t see the field a great deal as a substitute for Bohn Hilliard, one of UT’s all-time best halfbacks up to that point. The singular highlight Verde produced in his time as a Longhorn was an interception against Rice that he returned for an 88-yard touchdown.
Bernard Joseph “Bernie” Esunas (1936-38)
He was born and raised in Washington, DC and was the son of Lithuanian immigrants. Esunas was a three-year letterman on the Longhorn football team and started games in each season at right tackle.
Marcel Gres (1943)
A native Californian who was raised in San Francisco by French immigrant parents, Gres began his college career at Santa Clara University. He enlisted in the Navy after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan’s air force, and he was one of many Californians who were transferred to UT in 1943 as part of the Navy’s World War II-era V-12 officer training program. He was UT’s regular starter at left tackle during the 1943 season and was named an Associated Press (AP) honorable mention All-American.
James Shiro Kishi (1943)
He was born in Orange County in southeast Texas to Japanese immigrant parents and grew up in Terry, a farming community that had been established by his uncle and was home to several immigrant families from Japan. After graduating from Reagan High School in Houston, Kishi enrolled at Texas A&M at age 16, and a later report stated that he was A&M’s youngest-ever freshman football player. In the year after the attack on Pearl Harbor, American-born students of Japanese ancestry “were advised to leave A&M”, and Kishi transferred to the University of Texas. He won his only letter with the Longhorns as a backup tackle in 1943. He was expected to be a starter at guard in 1944, but a delayed examination during the summer resulted in him not completing the required number of course hours before the fall semester, and he was ruled ineligible for that season. He later served in the U.S. Army Air Corps, and would eventually earn two master’s degrees in engineering from UT.
George Petrovich (1944, 47-48) and Charles Petrovich (1951-53)
The Petrovich brothers graduated from Palestine High School in east Texas and were both three-year lettermen for the Longhorns, though their years at UT did not overlap. George was also a two-year track & field letterman and the Southwest Conference’s shot put champion in 1949. Their parents were Hungarian immigrants, their father having come to the U.S. at age 17, while their mother immigrated with her family at age 10.
Kiki DeAyala (1980-82)
A disruptive defensive end who came to Texas from Spring Branch Memorial, DeAyala was a team captain as a senior in 1982 and a third team AP All-American. He holds UT’s program record for career sacks (40.5), as well as its single-season records for sacks (22.5), tackles for loss (33), and quarterback pressures (56). He was born in 1961 in Miami to parents who had fled from Cuba a year earlier.
Raul Allegre (1981-82)
A native of Mexico who grew up in that country, Allegre had never played American football before spending his senior year of high school in Shelton, Washington as an exchange student. He put his soccer skills to work as the kicker for Shelton’s football team, and after graduation he attended the University of Montana and was its kicker for two seasons. He then transferred to Texas and was the team’s placekicker for two seasons. He went undrafted but played in the NFL for nine seasons and was part of two New York Giants teams that won the Super Bowl.
Omar Saleh (1986-88)
He was born in Kuwait, and moved with his family to the United States at age four. Saleh came to UT from Spring Branch Memorial, and was a two-year starter at right guard.
Alex Waits (1986-88, 90)
He was born in Scotland, and moved with his family to Texas at age five. Waits attended Plano East Senior High School, and while at UT he was the team’s primary punter for most of four seasons. As a senior in 1990 he made the All-Southwest Conference first team.
Deon Cockrell (1987-88, 90)
He was born on a U.S. Army base in Germany. Cockrell’s father was an American Army sergeant, and his mother a native of Germany. He lived in Germany through his first two years of high school, then finished his high school studies at San Antonio Cole after his father was transferred to Fort Sam Houston. He was a Class 2A all-state running back as a senior, went on to play running back and fullback for the Longhorns, and appeared in 25 games over four seasons.
Chris Samuels (1987-90)
He was born in Jamaica, and moved with his family to New York City at age five. His mother joined the U.S. military eight years later, and the family moved to San Antonio after she was posted to Fort Sam Houston. Samuels attended San Antonio Cole for his first two years of high school and just missed being a high school teammate with Deon Cockrell; Samuels transferred to Converse Judson for his last two years just as Cockrell arrived at Cole. While at Texas he was a backup running back and special teams contributor, and he finished his college career with over 2,300 all-purpose yards and 12 total touchdowns.
Shay Shafie (1990-91) and Shad Shafie (1991)
The Shafie brothers came to UT from Smithville High School. Shay was the Longhorns’ starting right tackle as a senior in 1991, while Shad was a reserve defensive end. Their father was born in Egypt.
Frank Okam (2004-07)
Born in Arkansas to a Nigerian father, Okam was a star defensive tackle at Lake Highlands High School in Dallas, and in four seasons with the Longhorns he was a two-time All-Big 12 honoree and a starter on the 2005 national championship team.
Xang Chareunsab (2005)
A walk-on wide receiver from Aldine MacArthur, Chareunsab was a four-year member of the Longhorn program and won a letter as a senior on the 2005 national championship team. He was born in Laos, and moved with his family to the U.S. at a very young age.
Brian Orakpo (2005-08)
A coveted recruit from Houston Lamar, Orakpo was a terror at defensive end for the Longhorns, and as a senior in 2008 he was a team captain, a consensus All-American, the winner of multiple national awards, and the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. He went on to play in the NFL for ten seasons. He was born in Houston to parents who were Nigerian immigrants.
Ishie Oduegwu (2006-07)
An all-state defensive back from powerhouse Denton Ryan, Oduegwu was a regular contributor for the Longhorns at safety for two seasons before injuries forced him to give up football. He was a first-generation American born to Nigerian parents.
Chris Ogbonnaya (2006-08)
He came to UT from Houston Strake Jesuit and was a valuable backup running back for the Longhorns for four years (for some reason the program’s all-time lettermen list doesn’t credit him as a letterman for the 2005 season, despite the fact that he played in eight games) and was both the team’s third-leading rusher and third-leading receiver as a senior in 2008. He went undrafted but had a six-year NFL career. Ogbonnaya was born near Houston to a Nigerian father who had immigrated to the U.S. a decade earlier.
Sam Acho (2007-10) and Emmanuel Acho (2008-11)
The Acho brothers were born in Dallas to parents who were Nigerian immigrants. They signed with Texas out of St. Mark’s School in Dallas, and both were decorated four-year lettermen. Sam was an All-American defensive end and played nine seasons in the NFL, while Emmanuel was a first team All-Big 12 linebacker and played in three NFL seasons.
Martin Egwuagu (2008)
A walk-on defensive back from Austin LBJ, Egwuagu was a member of the Longhorn scout team for three seasons and won a letter as a senior in 2008. His family is Nigerian.
Alex Okafor (2009-12)
He signed with Texas out of Pflugerville High School and was a two-time first team All-Big 12 defensive lineman, and a team captain as a senior in 2012. He went on to play nine seasons in the NFL. Okafor was born in Dallas to a Nigerian father and an American mother.
Reggie Wilson (2010-13)
He was a highly-coveted defensive end who signed with Texas out of Haltom High School, and in four seasons with the Longhorn program he appeared in 51 games. He was born in the west African country Ivory Coast to Liberian parents, who had fled there to escape the violence of the First Liberian Civil War.
Michael Davidson (2014)
Born in Aberdeen, Scotland, Davidson attended high school at Houston Strake Jesuit and was a walk-on kicker and punter with the Longhorns. He appeared in six games between 2012 and 2014, and was awarded a letter for the 2014 season.
Blake Whiteley (2014-16, not a letterman)
He was a native of British Columbia, Canada and signed with Texas as a highly-regarded junior college tight end recruit from Arizona Western in the 2014 recruiting class. After redshirting his first season, he missed all of the following two seasons with a torn ACL and a shoulder injury. He graduated from UT and left the football program without ever playing a snap, though he did later play for one season in 2018 at the University of British Columbia.
Michael Dickson (2015-17)
He came to UT from Kirrawee High School in New South Wales, Australia, and developed into arguably the greatest punter in Texas Longhorn history. He won the Ray Guy Award in 2017, was a 5th round NFL Draft pick the following year, and was an NFL All-Pro first team selection as a rookie.
Edwin Freeman (2015-17)
He signed with Texas as a safety out of Arlington Bowie, converted to linebacker, and played for the Longhorns for three seasons before transferring to Florida International in 2018. Freeman was born in Liberia and came to the United States in 2001.
Charles Omenihu (2015-18)
He was born in Houston to Nigerian immigrant parents, and grew up in the Dallas area. He signed with Texas as a composite three-star recruit in the 2015 class out of Rowlett High School, and in four seasons he played in 51 games and started 33. As a senior in 2018 he was named the Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year, and he is currently in his fifth NFL season and is a member of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Patrick Ojeaga (2016)
A walk-on defensive tackle from McAllen Memorial who won a letter for the 2016 season, Ojeaga is the son of Nigerian parents and a native of McAllen. He went on to attend the UT-Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine, and during his time there he was named a UT System Student Regent.
Ryan Bujcevski (2018-20)
A cousin of fellow Longhorn punter and Australia native Michael Dickson, Bujcevski was born in Sydney, Australia. He signed with Texas in 2018 and was the team’s punter for most of three seasons and played in 30 total games, then after not playing in 2021 he transferred to SMU and is now a senior and in his second season as that team’s punter.
Ayodele Adeoye (2018-19, 21)
The first recruit to sign with Texas out of Bradenton, Florida’s IMG Academy, Adeoye played linebacker in 25 games across four seasons with the Longhorn program, before transferring and playing for Sacramento State in 2022 and Incarnate Word for the current season. He is of Nigerian ancestry.
Kartik Akkihal (2018-21, not a recognized letterman)
A walk-on wide receiver from Austin Vandegrift, he was a member of the Longhorn roster for four seasons and appeared in three games. He is an Austin native, born to parents who were Indian immigrants.
Samuel Cosmi (2018-20)
A three-star offensive tackle prospect when he signed with Texas in the 2017 recruiting class out of Humble Atascocita, Cosmi developed into one of the Big 12’s top offensive linemen and twice earned all-conference honors before declaring early for the NFL Draft and becoming a 2nd round pick in 2021. Cosmi was born in Texas to Romanian immigrant parents.
Joseph Ossai (2018-20)
A star at defensive end, Ossai came to Texas from Conroe Oak Ridge and was a consensus All-American as a junior in 2020 before declaring early for the NFL Draft. He was born in Nigeria and moved to the United States at age 10.
Rafiti Ghirmai (2019-20)
An offensive lineman who signed with Texas in 2018 out of Frisco Wakeland, Ghirmai was a member of the Longhorn program for four seasons and appeared in 13 games before transferring in 2022 to Abilene Christian. His father was born in Eritrea, which was part of Ethiopia at the time.
Moro Ojomo (2019-22)
He signed with Texas as an unusually young recruit from Katy High School, and went on to appear in 50 games and start 30 in his five years with the Longhorn program. He is currently an NFL rookie with the Philadelphia Eagles. Ojomo was born in Nigeria, and moved to the U.S. at age seven.
Prince Dorbah (2020-22, not a recognized letterman)
He signed with Texas after playing a key role on two state championship teams at Highland Park High School, and in three seasons with the Longhorns he made seven appearances, including five in the 2022 season, but he is not included in the program’s official lettermen list. He transferred to Arizona State in 2023. Dorbah was born in Ivory Coast, and came to the United States at age three.
Andrej Karic (2020-22)
He signed with Texas after a standout career at Southlake Carroll. He started the 2020 Alamo Bowl at left tackle as a true freshman, made four other starts in his three seasons with the program, and in 2022 was often employed as a jumbo tight end. He transferred to Tennessee in 2023. Karic was born in the U.S. to parents who were Bosnian immigrants.
Ovie Oghoufo (2021-22)
He played defensive end for two seasons with the Longhorns after transferring from Notre Dame, then transferred again and is now at LSU. Oghoufo was born in the U.S. to parents who immigrated from Nigeria in 2000.
Malik Agbo (2022-23, not yet a letterman)
He signed with the Longhorns in the 2022 recruiting class from Todd Beamer High School in Federal Way, Washington, and after redshirting as a freshman he has appeared in all seven games during the 2023 season. His father is a native of Ghana, and not only that, according to a 2020 article, he is a Ghanian prince.
That’s 62 names listed, and there are probably many others who should be on the list. Taking a world map and shading in every country mentioned in this post as the birthplace of a Longhorn football player or one of their parents, it would look like this.
As names are pointed out (along with the details of their respective immigrant backgrounds) of players who I’ve missed, I’ll add them to their own section at the bottom of this post. I don’t know the family history of every single player past and present, and there’s a good chance I’ve missed some obvious ones. Happy National Immigrants Day to all of them and their families!