Up Close: Ebele Okakpu, Part I

ROSWELL, Ga. --- Just as the Evaluation Period was drawing to a close, Ebele Okakpu decided to attend Scout.com's inaugural Elite Camp held in Atlanta on a whim. He didn't know it at the time, but that decision would end up being the turning point in his recruitment.

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    "At first, I wasn't really thinking about going," said Okakpu of the late May event. "But a lot of my friends were going and they talked me into going, so I did."

    Okakpu, a 6-foot-1 200-pounder from Roswell (Ga.), ended up being one of the more impressive linebackers in attendance, garnering the attention of North Carolina linebacker coach Tommy Thigpen, who watched from the sidelines.

    "[Thigpen] called me that night, I talked to him," said Okakpu. "He didn't really say much. He just said I looked good at the camp. He just said he liked my footwork, because we had to do a lot of ladder drills.

    "He didn't really tell me then that he was going to offer me, but he told me that they probably were going to offer me."

    Okakpu, who already had collected 16 scholarship offers, received a UNC offer later that week.

    Thigpen and Okakpu continued to keep in touch with Thigpen focused on getting the Scout.com four-star prospect on campus.

    In late June, Okakpu visited Chapel Hill, forever changing the dynamic of his recruitment.

    "[Heading into the visit] I was still open," said Okakpu. "I was just going up there to see how I liked it. I just ended up really liking it more than I did any other school that I visited."

    Okakpu also visited Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Georgia, Georgia Tech, and South Carolina.

    Coming out of his first visit to UNC, Okakpu all but claimed the Tar Heels his leader.

    "When I went up there, the head coach wasn't up there, but I liked all the facilities and all those types of things," said Okakpu. "I talked to a lot of the academic people there and I just really liked what they had to say about the academic program and that's what pretty much separated them."

    Prior to the visit, Roswell head football coach Tim McFarlin thought Okakpu was going to stay in-state and commit to Georgia.

    "He struck up a good relationship with [Thigpen] and he felt very comfortable there," said McFarlin. "And when it's all said and done with recruiting that's what it comes down to. It wasn't that he didn't like Georgia, Miami, Virginia Tech – he loved those places. He loved Clemson. But he felt at home up at [North] Carolina."

    After the novelty of his UNC trip wore off, Okakpu -- who was looking to make a verbal commitment by the end of July – was still leaning towards the Tar Heels.

    "I was still a little bit open, but North Carolina was still pretty high up there," said Okakpu. "I was pretty set that that was where I wanted to go."

    Okakpu set a return visit to Chapel Hill to seal the deal.

    "I was pretty sure that that's where I wanted to go, but I wasn't all the way sure until I actually went up there and saw everything again," said Okakpu.

    "I wanted to go and actually meet Butch Davis, because the first time he wasn't up there. And then I met all the coaches when I went up there."

    After sitting down with Davis, Okakpu met with Thigpen and made it official with a verbal commitment.

    "I was pretty sure that's where I wanted to go," said Okakpu.

    According to McFarlin, the decision to go to UNC was a family decision.

    "Not just the mom and dad, his brothers and sister all went up [to UNC]," said McFarlin. "When they got there, they had a real comfort level there. Academically, he was going to get what he was looking for and athletically he would get a chance to be apart of a program that's on the up-and-coming."

    (Check back tomorrow for Part II of this Up Close feature …)

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