Okakpu, Harris Make it Official

ATLANTA --- The meeting was brief, but held the promise of a future spent on the practice and playing fields together.

As future gridiron stars from all across metro Atlanta were paraded to the podium at the Buckhead ESPN Zone to announce their college choice - Ebele Okakpu from Roswell High School just north of town and Kenneth Harris of Columbia High in Decatur shook hands and posed for photographs together. Both Tar Heel pledges seemed to be warming to the spotlight and the prospect of four years spent together on the North Carolina campus.

"Chapel Hill was breathtaking," Harris said, unable to contain a smile. "It was just so clean and nice." Kenneth's father, Keith Harris, was just as effusive, "I was so impressed with the coaches, atmosphere and all the people bleeding Carolina Blue."

For Okakpu, who spent Super Bowl Sunday watching his cousin Osi Umenyiora dominate the Patriots from a couch in Umenyiora's Atlanta home, Chapel Hill was a simple choice motivated by his famous cousin's advice of "go where you love it." "I love it" Okakpu said. "It's similar to where I live in Roswell. Everything you want to do is right in the same area."

Ebele's father, Walter, also had very strong feelings about his experience in Chapel Hill - "We talked to the coaches and they were very kind and attended to each detail of every question we asked. With us it was more about academics. We were wondering 'What will he read and what will he study?' and they answered everything."

In Okakpu's case there was a benefit in choosing UNC on the football field as well. "They run the same schemes and sets as we do at Roswell," he said before adding, "so the coaching staff said I'll have a head start if I work hard." His high school coaches have complimented his ability as a "sideline to sideline player," but the football sidelines weren't where Okakpu got his start. In fact, at first, Lina Okakpu - Ebele's mother and native of Nigeria - thought her son's pursuit of football was "a joke." It's not a cut on the sport, just a reflection of Ebele's success as a soccer player growing up and her thought that American football was a diversion. "He started with soccer, but once he registered in football he never went back," she said.

Kenneth Harris should provide the UNC coaches with a wealth of options to explore due to his versatility. His coach at Columbia, Keith Latham, designates Harris's aggressiveness as his best football trait: "He was recruited as a defensive player, but might get a look at tight end." For Harris, though, it doesn't matter where he plays - "I just want to do whatever it takes to win," he explained.

Laham believes that his former player will continue to blossom in Chapel Hill. "I'm just excited that the UNC staff can put the time into teaching him ways to improve his techniques," the coach said. The opinions seem uniform regarding his football assets which include what Harris calls "an extra surge" along with "an ability to play any position."

Accounts differ, however, on the root of his nickname "Scrap." According to Latham it is derived from Harris' resemblance to rapper Lil' Scrap, however Harris traces the origin back to a play early in his high school career. "They gave me the name for my first big time hit in tenth grade," Harris recalled, but then admitted an resemblance to the rapper saying, "My face has matured since then."

With Osi Umenyiora in the family, it's clear that Okakpu has terrific bloodlines. In fact, Umenyiora provides his Tar Heel cousin with "confidence and motivation," but the stream of terrific talent doesn't seem to end with Ebele. As the sixth of eight children, Ebele looks to younger brother Chuka as perhaps an even greater talent. "We played together this year" Ebele said, "and it would be fun to do it again." It's an idea that the family is fully in favor of: "I'd love for him to go with his brother," his mother added, stating the convenience of driving to one location for games as a positive. She also mentioned perhaps another determining factor for Chuka - "He loves basketball and the UNC team."

Speaking of the UNC hoops team - just moments into their official relationship with North Carolina - each newly minted Heel left no doubt what they would be doing on the evening of February 6th as they offered up predictions. For the record - Harris went first and said UNC by five then Okakpu went a step further saying: "UNC by ten - maybe fifteen."

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