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Chikezie (which means “well made by God” in the Ibo dialect of the Nigerian language), should translate to “well made for football” in American. The 6-foot-4, 260-pound defensive end has very impressive skills. His quickness and strength help him rush and apply pressure on the passer.
However where has Okeafor been? He was a 1999 third-round draft pick for the 49er’s and has yet to make a contribution to the defensive line due to injury in a game last year with the Cincinnati Bengals that resulted in a sprained left medial collateral ligament, which all but sidelined him for the 1999 season.
Now healthy we wait for this Nigerian wonder to make an impact of enormous proportions on a defensive line that has been tremendously revamped from its original self-one year year ago.
Out of a miserable 1999 season that resulted in a record of 4-12 The San Francisco 49er’s Defense fell flat on its face, in two key areas defensive end and at the cornerback positions. Okeafor was thought to be the answer to a pass rush that had not seen a significant contributor since the departure of veteran Chris Doleman.
Physically impressive Okeafor is a defensive end with quickness and strength. He was timed 4.64 in 40-yard dash, has played inside linebacker, outside linebacker and defensive end during his career.
Durable before the draft, he never missed a game due to injury, he was chosen from Purdue (89th overall) in the third round. Okeafor, who is of Nigerian decent, majored in engineering. His mother is a professor at Purdue.
He was named all state as a three-year starter at inside linebacker. He was rated the seventh-best linebacker prospect in the nation by Super Prep. Also as a fullback he averaged 8.9 yards per carry his senior season, gaining 1,169 yards on 132 tries. He scored 12 touchdowns and led his team to the Class 2A title in Indiana.
In Collegiate honors he was named second-team All-Big Ten by Sports Network and coaches from 1994-98. In his sophomore year he led the team in tackles with 103. He moved from linebacker to defensive end in 1998.
In a rebuilding franchise Chike Okeafor now healthy knows what needs to be done to get this team back into a competitive nature, I believe he can be a real devastating force off the end position, and bring real live speed and quickness to the passer in desirable fashion.
Defensive End is a crucial segment that the defense must address; Okeafor brings a real nasty element to this position, with his aggressiveness.
He shows explosive acceleration off the snap and has spin moves, which allows him to penetrate into the backfield. He has great stamina, foot speed and versatility.
These are what a true defensive end will need to wreck havoc for a quarterback’s worse day will come true with all the above in appliance.
Okeafor realizes he has lots to prove with the coaches, front office and the fans with his absence from the 1999 season. Now is the year he needs to establish himself and mature as a progressive threat in the backfield with the opposition’s passer.
Can Okeafor establish himself as a premier pass rusher with the likes of Chris Doleman, John Randle and Kevin Greene? We can only hope that his raw skills in the NFL will develop into an image of these, not necessarily a copy of these that takes years of experience and a gradual expertise of the position once there a few years.
“It’s the little things and techniques that you have to worry about", says Okeafor.
“You don’t have to be the biggest or strongest, but you have to be a good technician. We have to be a solid defensive unit, and how to achieve success is through practice. The more practice we have, the better we get.”
While Okeafor was growing up he did not play football until high school, because his parents instilled academics was more important than sports. He would’ve never played football had his father remained in the United States. His father is Nigerian and his mother is American. His father never had great respect for football.
“My father had to return to Nigeria when I was 10 years old. It’s their tradition for the eldest son to take care of the whole family if the family falls ill,” says Okeafor, his father remains there today.
Although his father pushed for them to move, his mother wanted a better education for them, so she stayed. It would have been next to impossible for Okeafor top play sports, Due to his father being in America, since he left he has. His father supports soccer he views football as a barbaric sport.
The scenario’s at defensive end for the 49er’s come regular season are a mixture of veteran ship and raw rookie talent, Okeafor and veteran Junior Bryant could be the starters, however second-round pick John Engelberger from Virginia-Tech hopes to be in the picture also. And newly signed Ex-Jet veteran Anthony Pleasant is now in the mix.
Defensive Coordinator Jim Mora believes Okeafor has a promising future in football, “He’s a good player and a hard worker. I expect big things from him. He has gained weight and become stronger. All he has to do now is stay healthy,” says Mora.
Okeafor believes the real success of the team relies on their ability to pull together.
“We have to make up for our weaknesses, and develop great techniques. To do this we have to listen to instructions. No one does everything great. If so, they would be going to the Pro Bowl every year. We have to be well-rounded players. Most importantly, we have to study our playbooks and our plays,” says Okeafor.
The will and energy I read into this athlete is stunning and electrifying, So much can be said of this up and coming defensive end whom I believe will be a recognizable force in the NFL today.
As part of a 1999 draft class that has yet to play and contribute with the likes of defensive tackle Reggie McGrew and corner back Anthony Parker he has a desire that is still unleashed in the game for us to observe. Now is his time to shine and make critical plays that will enhance his status as a starting defensive end with the 49er’s.
Okeafor says the die-hard fans are the one’s the team plays for and the fair-weather fans offer no true support. “If you are a fan regardless. You can’t be spoiled. No team has a run of nearly 20 years of winning and stays excellent. Just because you have that and are used to it doesn’t mean you should expect that every year.”
How true this statement is, I sense the need of urgency in his voice that the 49er’s are on a new and bumpy road, and that they will have to pave out the ruts and bumps that go along with it’s new rookie class.
This defense by large will be greatly improved due to the expected emergence of talent that has been waiting in the wings since the 1999 draft, combined with this years draft we should be a faster more durable defense due in part to it’s youth movement and stamina related cause.
Okeafor is just another rookie in the 49er fold; one of many ranging from 36-40 players that will play for the very first time. Yet I believe he is a special rookie in it because of his intense love of the game, and his opportunity to reach out and try to seize it.
There is no reason that defensive end should be a question mark now with this kind of talent and depth waiting. Healthiness will be key though to go the long haul over the 16-game schedule.
Okeafor believes the past is the past. “I don’t concern myself with opinions about our struggles,” he says. “I can only give 100 percent. I’m training today just as I would if we were returning Super Bowl champions. My goals are set high regardless. I strive to be the best.”
With this I say let’s strive to be the best regardless, what else do we have but up. I believe that we can upset the skeptics and the football analysts that have us rated way below .500 football. To them I say they are dead wrong.