Offer has junior excited for the future

You might think it hard for a RB who averages almost eight yards per carry and stands 6-foot-1, weighs 208 pounds and runs a reported 4.5/40, to go unnoticed. On a national landscape, though, that's exactly what's happened. Don't expect that to be the case anymore for Omaha Westside running back Collins Okafor. With his first written offer from the Huskers, his reputation is only starting to rise.

Call it a quiet 1,300 plus yards for Omaha Westside's Collins Okafor. You can call it that, because there are junior running backs around the country who have done far less, and when it comes to the attention, have received far more.

It wouldn't have taken much, though, because up until recently Okafor not ony didn't have an offer, but he hadn't gotten a single letter from a single school.

That's hard to believe considering the fact that he's led his team to an undefeated regular season record, one of only two other teams to accomplish the feat this year. It's hard to believe when you look at his size. It's hard to believe that you take all his athleticism into account and then throw in a 3.7 GPA, you have to wonder why anyone hasn't gotten the idea.

The kid is good

Not bad for someone who almost quit playing the playing the game. "My freshman year, I played receiver and it was my first time playing football, so I wasn't really a whiz at it," Okafor said. "So, I was going to quit, but one of my friends told me I should try running back. I figured I would and if it didn't work out, I'd just focus on my school."

That year he got the starting spot, but his first game at the position wasn't exactly how he had envisioned. "My first game was bad. I was really nervous; I didn't run at full speed," he said. "I thought I could just jog through tackles. It was really bad and we ended up losing the game and I ended up with negative yardage."

"My second game I just ran with heart and intensity and I started to develop my running back potential."

At his size you automatically equate his potential to backs like a Adrian Peterson, who is certainly known for his all-around game, but he's defined by just how physical he is and how hard he is to bring down. You might find it surprising then how this particular big back sees himself when it comes to his style of play.

"I run around a lot. I like just being able to run around and make plays like Barry Sanders did," Collins said of the former Detroit Lion and Oklahoma State Cowboy. "I don't necessarily look at myself as like that, but that's what I like to do."

Whether it's with his elusiveness or physicality, you can't argue with the results this year as Okafor ranks second in the state in rushing with 1,358 yards, notching 12 touchdowns along the way. He's one of the biggest reasons why Westside will go into the first round of the playoffs undefeated, ready to erase the memory of the first round loss last season.

Back to Okafor and his ability, all this potential and all these results, it seems incredible that he didn't have an offer up until a week or so ago. Heck, he hadn't even gotten a letter, not even from Nebraska. So, when that fateful day came, up until he realized just what it was, there was more dread in his mind than anticipation.

"I got pulled out of physics class. I thought I was going to get kicked off the team, because who gets pulled out of a physics class," he said. "I went to the room and it was the running back coach (Randy Jordan), the offensive coordinator (Jay Norvell) and Mr. Kauffman the head coach. They put the letter in my lap, I picked it up and my eyes got all big."

Not a single letter from anyone, and the first thing you get is a written offer from the home state school. Even for someone as even keel as Okafor, that was something special. "It was crazy. It was intense," he said. "It was my first offer and it came from the school I grew up watching."

There probably aren't many kids, who haven't even reached their senior year, if this happened to them, they wouldn't have committed on the spot. For Okafor, even just for a split second, that crossed his mind as well.

"Yeah, I wanted to say ‘Yeah, I'm in.' I mean it was my first full ride and still is," he said. "Nebraska is number one on my list, but being a junior and only visiting once, I still think I need to see how everything is."

"I felt real welcome the first time, but if I get a chance, I want to see how it feels then – how much it feels like family."

That first visit was this last weekend as he; along with 85,000-plus other people got to see the Huskers host the Texas Longhorns. The ending was obviously nothing anyone expected, but for Collins, he didn't even think it would get to that point. "I thought we would win," he said of the Huskers. "Before the game I saw the look in the player's eyes and it just seemed like they knew they were going to win."

"I knew they were going to win. Or, at least, I hoped they would. I just wanted to beat Texas."

Not getting the victory didn't dampen Okafor's spirits about Nebraska as a team, though, because he's seen the gradual rise in successes since head coach Bill Callahan arrived. "There's no place to go but up for them. I mean, this is only Bill Callahan's third year," he said. "You can see they have the momentum going forward for them right now, so I don't see them getting anything but better."

One of the highlights from the game was probably one of the most obvious highlights for anyone that got to see the nationally televised contest. For a running back, though, it was even more special to see.

At the start of the fourth quarter, Nebraska trailing Texas 16-7, senior quarterback Zac Taylor delivered a shovel pass to junior running back Brandon Jackson. A sprint to the right side of the field, a turn up, a juke to the left and a key block by senior fullback Dane Todd later, Jackson galloped into the end zone, putting the Huskers back in the game.

As far as Collins was concerned, THAT was how it should be done. "I've made runs like that before, but Brandon Jackson made that a complete run," he said. "If you want to be a running back and you want to learn how to be a running back, people should watch that run every chance you get."

"That is how you run the ball and that is how you score as a running back. It doesn't get any better than that."

There's Husker fever running in the veins of Okafor. Like most kids in the state, he grew up following and cheering for the Scarlet and Cream. With an offer now in hand from the Huskers, one might think that it's only a matter of time before this Westside wonder adds his name to the class of 2008, joining fellow in-state star, Lincoln Southwest lineman Baker Steinkuhler.

The emotion is there, of course, but for someone so young, Okafor has a decidedly mature view of the offer and his future. "If they (Husker fans) put themselves in my position, this is the first D-1 offer, this is the first school that has offered you – you want to commit, but it's my junior year," he said. "It's like meeting someone and getting married. You just don't marry someone the first time you see them. That's what I would probably tell people as to where I am coming from."

Right now Okafor has the offer, and his team is heading to the playoffs, undefeated and looking to take it all the way. You could say he's preoccupied with a lot of other things that are naturally taking up a lot of his time.

He loves that the offer from Nebraska is there, though, because it helps justify the fact that he stayed in the game, stayed with the position, and regardless of what happens from here on out, he knows there's a future waiting for him.

It's just now a matter of time. Not time before he becomes a Husker, but time for him to do more things at the position, more things in life, and he'll always keep his recruiting in the perspective, where he thinks it belongs.

"It's my junior year. I have a lot of goals still, and so many thinks that I think we can do as a team," he said. "It's good having that offer and it feels good knowing that you are someone – that you've done something that really impacts your life in a positive way."

"I'm just going to use that for motivation, because there's still a lot I need to improve. I'm taking my time so I can do that."

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