Duke Ihenacho is well aware of his roots. Canvassing his bio within his Instagram and various social media platforms is the proud capitalization of “NIGERIAN.” Duke’s command and knowledge of his roots seems to permeate throughout his demeanor. Whether he’s instructing Riley Cooper to “watch his mouth” or decorating his mouthpiece to honor his mother, Duke has a way of letting his “presence” be heard.
This couldn’t have been any more evident as the talented safety from San Jose State took social media by storm as his elaborate and decorative “custom” cleats drew the attention of many. Featuring Chuck Taylor like designs as well as Nike slide iterations via tape jobs, it’s safe to say that Duke is easily one of the more artistic players to grace the gridiron each and every week.
I caught up with Duke to gather his thoughts on the kicks that are taking the world by storm.
Nice Kicks: What started the process of you creating these custom cleats?
Duke Ihenacho: Just growing up in L.A., I never played Pop Warner football but I had a lot of friends that played. During that time it was a very common thing to see the kids create their Chuck Taylor spats or house slippers and what not.
I remember when I was with the Denver Broncos, I had started doing it when I was on the practice squad and with the year being so long and spending so many weeks on the practice squad, you tend to get bored. After a while, I kind of wanted to spice up practice for myself, and I just decide to spat up my cleats. The first one I did was the Chuck Taylor spat. Everyone liked it and I started doing it on Fridays of each week.
Nice Kicks: How long of a process is it to create these cleats?
Duke Ihenacho: It’s really quick. First I get spatted, just normally, like everyone else. Depending on what design I’m doing, I’ll either have a black base or a white base. Then after that, I’ll grab some tape and spend an extra five to ten minutes creating the design.
The Chuck Taylors take the longest because of the laces and things like that. I usually utilize the finger tape for the laces because that specific tape is thin. It’s not a long process at all, I guess the longer you do it, the more you perfect it.
Nice Kicks: Who has the biggest reaction to your creatively taped kicks, your teammates or coaches?
Duke Ihenacho: Man, truthfully, I don’t tell anybody – I try to hide it until I get to the field. However, the biggest reaction is from the trainers and media — the guys that aren’t necessarily coaches and players. Some players have seen it, especially the ones from Cali and it just sort of brings back memories, so they definitely get excited about that.
Nice Kicks: Is the sneaker culture different with you being a West Coast guy on the East Coast?
Duke Ihenacho: I feel like everybody enjoys their sneakers but on the East Coast it’s more about boots, like Timberlands. However, at the end of the day, everyone enjoys their sneakers. Especially within a football organization, you have guys from all over the place – so the people that I’m around are the same kind of people and enjoy sneakers.
Nice Kicks: So, throughout your career are there any notable players that have great sneaker collections?
Duke Ihenacho: Oh man, Von Miller. When I played in Denver with him he had a lot of shoes. TJ Ward also had a lot of shoes. Andre Caldwell has a great collection, as well as Jeron Johnson who I play with now (as seen in the video below).
Ultimately the culture remains consistent throughout the league. Once you get to this level, it’s so easy to get ahold of a lot of sneakers and I think players take pride in that .
Nice Kicks: What can we expect from a kicks perspective heading into this season?
Duke Ihenacho: I’ve sent some kicks to SolesBySir, so I should expect something back from him by the start of the season. I have some pretty cool kicks that he’s going to create for me and I can’t wait to wear them.
You can’t spat during the season, but you can showcase your designer kick game, for sure.
To see more from Ihenacho, head over to his Instagram account and check out the Washington Redskins this upcoming season.