“Julian is a really explosive, long, lengthy player,” Ardrey Kell head coach Adam Hastings said. “[He has a] great first step. [He’s] physical. He’s just a great, real fun kid to have and coach. His attitude and demeanor is really going to make him a force next year and here on out.”
Okwara began playing football in the eighth grade.
“I always wanted to play the sport, but my dad didn’t really want me to play it,” Okwara said. “He’s always been a big fan of basketball. He always tried to get me and [my brother] Romeo to play basketball more, because he thought football was too dangerous.”
The late start coupled with Ardrey Kell’s talented roster – not many programs in N.C. regularly churn out FBS players like the Knights – forced Okwara to spend the 2012 and 2013 seasons on junior varsity. Opportunity and maturity intersected for Okwara last offseason.
“He had a really good summer and a really good start to the season,” Hastings said. “We just had some really good defensive ends that had played [in 2013] when he was on jayvee that were older. So he had to prove himself a little bit. And it didn’t take very long for him to show how good he is.”
Okwara not only was promoted to varsity – he became a starting defensive end, ending the season with 90-plus tackles, including ten sacks, three pass deflections, and two forced fumbles.
A baker’s dozen worth of schools have offered Okwara – Boston College, California, Duke, Louisville, Mississippi, North Carolina, NC State, Pittsburgh, Vanderbilt, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, and West Virginia. He’s also receiving significant interest from Clemson, Florida, Florida State, and LSU.
“It seems like every school around here has been by,” Hastings said. “… I think his upside is so high and tremendous, I think it makes it easy for a lot of schools to be very excited to see him.”
Following the football season, Gunter Brewer, who recruits the Queen City for UNC, offered Okwara a scholarship.
“We were just talking and he just told me I had an offer,” Okwara said. “It was pretty cool.”
During the season, Okwara attended a couple of games in Chapel Hill (vs. Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech).
“It was pretty cool,” Okwara said. “Everyone was dressed in blue. The stadium was pretty loud. Everybody knows each other’s name. It was pretty fun walking around, because everyone knows who you are.”
The only college Okwara has visited for a game is NC State when the Wolfpack hosted Wake Forest.
Okwara is considering a possible return to UNC for its Feb. 21 junior day. If not Chapel Hill, Okwara will make his first visit to Notre Dame as a recruit that day. He has previously traveled to South Bend to see his brother, Romeo, who is a defensive lineman for the Irish.
On Feb. 28, Okwara plans to visit Florida State. The following Saturday, he’s scheduled to travel to Clemson. He’s also working on trips to Boston College, Virginia, and West Virginia.
One might hypothesize that having an older brother who went through the recruiting process would be quite a benefit. That’s not the case with Okwara.
“During his recruitment, I really didn’t know what was going on,” Okwara said with a laugh. “I’d come home and wonder ‘Where’s my brother?’ He was on his visits. One day I checked the newspaper and saw he was going to all these places. I was more focused on cartoons at the time.”
Along those lines, Romeo’s existence on Notre Dame’s roster will have no impact on Okwara’s recruitment.
“I want to go where it’s best for me,” Okwara said. “My dad has always talked about going where it fits me. My brother just wants me to be successful.”
In fact, Okwara’s early leader is Notre Dame’s adversary in the “Holy War” – Boston College.
“Boston College is one of the schools that is sticking out more, because it was my first offer,” Okwara said. “I need to get up there to learn what everything is really about and get to know all the coaches.
“Coach [Al] Washington would always talk to me. He was the first one [to recruit me]. He’s always reminding me how much he wants me to be a part of the program.”
When he was eight years old, Okwara moved from Nigeria… Okwara’s teammate Taleni Suhren is a close friends, but they don’t plan to be a package deal for a college. Earlier in the month, three Ardrey Kell alums signed with FBS programs – Twazanga Mugala (Duke), Mason Veal (UNC), and Raymond Wright (Army).