"He was the central figure on defense," said McFarlin. "Everything really revolved around him. He made all the calls, led the team in tackles, his leadership through his work ethic was critical for us.
"I think it was one of the things that really made us a better football team was having him in the middle of the field. Ebele will be the first to tell you that he's just one of the pieces to the puzzle; there's eleven pieces out there. But he's the center piece."
Okakpu, a 6-foot-1 200-pounder, actually started his varsity career as a sophomore at outside linebacker.
"He had a lot of natural talent and Ebele is a very coachable young man," said McFarlin. "He wants to please his coaches – you can tell he's had a good upbringing from his parents. He's always been a real pleasant kid to work with. But he plays football with a tremendous amount of passion. That combined with his athleticism made it an easy move for us [to move him to varsity as a sophomore]."
During the summer before his junior season, the decision was made to move Okakpu to middle linebacker.
"It was very different," said Okakpu. "At the outside linebacker spot, you have assignments, but in the middle you have assignments and you have to make the play calls and make sure guys are lined up."
"It was a great move for him and a great move for us," said McFarlin. "It was just a matter of him getting comfortable at a new position."
Okakpu got comfortable quickly. He led a defense that allowed fewer than two touchdowns a game and helped Roswell to a 13-1-1 record, including a 14-14 tie with a very talented Suwanee (Ga.) Peachtree Ridge in the GHSA 5A Title Game.
"I thought [our season] went really well," said Okakpu. "I thought we had a good team at the start of the year. We had a lot of seniors and a lot of good players."
Okakpu ended the season with 121 tackles (most on the team) including nine for a loss and a sack, and intercepted three passes. He was named to the all-state, all-region, and all-county teams for his junior year accomplishments.
Roswell heads into the 2007 season nationally ranked and with a huge target on its backs. Therefore, McFarlin hopes to keep his team from looking ahead.
"We're not going to get caught up in this ‘defending the state [title],'" said McFarlin. "This is not last year's team; this is this year's team.
"I'd be lying if I said there's not a certain amount of pressure that goes along with that. We've told our guys just to lock in on who they're playing that week and we're going to play every week like it's the only week. After that, we'll see what happens."
On the collegiate level, North Carolina plans to move Okakpu back to his first varsity position.
"They want me to play outside linebacker," said Okakpu. "They want me to move to the outside and put some weight on. They also said I'll get to play early."
McFarlin agrees with the move.
"I think he'll be a ‘WILL' linebacker," said McFarlin. "In a 4-3 scheme at the college level, he would be one of those outside linebackers. His speed gives him the ability. He plays physically, but he can run with receivers, too."
Regardless of where and when he plays, the eventual signing of Okakpu brings a high-character individual to UNC.
"They're getting a great kid," said McFarlin. "With Ebele they're getting a great football player, but they're also getting a great person. I would simply say, if football doesn't work out – and I'm sure it will – they're going to have a guy on campus that they'll be proud of."