Powder Springs (Ga.) Hillgrove tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo really saw his recruitment take off early in 2017. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound senior narrowed it down to Georgia Tech and Maryland before announcing his decision, and he shares his story with you here:
The recruiting process for me has been such a blessing. In the beginning, it honestly felt to me like I would never get an offer and I began to get really nervous. There were times I would get really mad and ask myself, “What are these coaches seeing in other guys that they don’t see in me?”
I was first-team all-state and I had a near 1,000-yard receiving season my junior year, but still no offers. I began to get nervous but I just kept my head down and kept grinding, praying and working.
It was around February when I received my first offer. I was extremely excited … and relieved. Finally a school had taken a chance on me. The next day I received another offer. And the next. And the next. And the next. Before I knew it, the month was over and I was already up to 10 offers.
It just really went to show me that patience and prayer is key. God had a plan for me all along and my job was to just keep working hard. It was the off-season and I had many goals, most were to pick up more offers from schools. I ended up picking up a few more offers that spring but not as many as I hoped as I was sidelined due to a hamstring strain I received from competing at the New Jersey Nike Opening Regional.
However, I didn’t regret competing there because I really showed out and impressed the coaches, and boom I got the call in the summer that not many lower-recruited guys get, about going to The Opening Finals.
At this time I thought my recruitment was going to take off. I had many big coaches follow me on Twitter but still no new offers. At this point I’m thinking, “What’s going on?” I didn’t realize it was all in God’s plan.
The season was coming up and I saw everyone on Twitter in 2018 was committing and locking down spots. I didn’t think anything of it until a coach called and told me spots were filling up and I might not get a spot unless I committed soon. Reality hit me. I thought I could play my first four games and pick up some more offers in my senior season but I knew that wouldn’t be smart because I would have to start over and make relationships with those coaches.
I narrowed down my decision to Georgia Tech and Maryland. I had been to Georgia Tech multiple times and was familiar with their coaching staff as I talked to them on the regular. It was the same with Maryland, however I never visited. The coaches really pursued me hard and pushed me to visit. Honestly I wasn’t going to visit because my interest in the Terps wasn’t really there. I didn’t know anything about the North and I really didn’t care much, but the coaching staff was showing me they wanted me so bad so I told my mom I had to go see what this place was about at least one time.
We visited July 29. I got there and I wasn’t too sure about it. I already wasn’t feeling it, but when I was walking down the street and I heard someone call my name from a golf cart, I knew I was really wanted. The coach took me to the Cole Field House and I walked in and he says “Chig’s here!” And out comes the whole staff. Everyone. The assistants, coach Walt Bell, coach Pete Lembo, the director of player personnel, academic coordinators and other commits. It was such a special feeling – I began to love the visit.
We went into the team meeting room which was similar to a movie theater and we were shown the new $155 million facility that was being built. It included a new indoor which was already done, a new dining hall that was three times the size as the old one, a new players’ lounge three times the size as the old one, a new weight room, three new nutrition bars, and a new football building. I was watching it and was amazed that they were getting all this new stuff. But I still wasn’t sold.
We were taken on the tour to see the campus and the dorms. Out of every college I’ve been to, Maryland has the best dorms hands down that I have ever seen. The visit was getting better as I went along. The thing that ultimately sold me was my talk with coach Walt Bell. He told me I would be a flex tight end in their offense, and that they really needed a guy who could move around like me. He then showed me all the tight ends he coached and put in the league such as Eric Ebron and Brandon Pettigrew.
The thing I loved is that he’d show me plays of the guys he coached running routes and then show me my highlight film of me running the same route. I thought, “Dang this guy really took the time out of his day to cut my film and his guys’ film of the same routes and show me, just to show how well I could fit in his offense instead of just telling me how well I could fit.” Next was my meeting with coach DJ Durkin. I didn’t know what to expect because I never heard anything from him. I’d never met him, seen a picture of him or anything like that. I had only been communicating with coach Lembo and coach Bell, but when I met coach Durkin I knew I had to commit. He was such an energetic and bright coach that reminded me exactly of one of my old coaches at my high school.
He told me all the things I could do in their offense and their vision they had for their program. I thought it over in my head a couple of times of all the things I got from the visit and how much I fell in love with the school and told him “Coach, I’m in.” His reaction was even better. He jumped out of his seat and was shaking. I knew deep down I’d made the right decision, 100 percent, when I saw that and I was immediately a Terp.
I’m a very religious person and I believe God has a plan for everyone and looking back on my recruitment I really feel like he was pushing me to go to Maryland. Being someone that was invited to huge events, I could have easily had several more Power Five schools offer me. But nothing came. I thought it was because I was a “tweener” – someone who is too small to play traditional tight end and too big to play wide receiver. I distinctly remember a conversation I had with coach Bell and my high school coach when he visited Hillgrove. I told him, “I’m thinking about losing some weight and going to outside.” He immediately clapped back and said, “Don’t do that. Be yourself. Don’t try and be someone else.” At the time I didn’t think anything of it and proceeded to do what I wanted but looking back on it now I really feel it was God telling me this is the school he wanted me to go to.
I prayed on it for a very long time for him to show me where he wanted me. I am so thankful to God for blessing me with all my athletic abilities and my great family, friends and community. I know I wouldn’t be anywhere without Jesus Christ in my life. I’m 110-percent committed to the University of Maryland! I will be arriving there in January 2018 and am extremely exited. GO TERPS!