West Orange (N.J.) High’s C.J. Onyechi is fast enough to be a track star and powerful enough to play tackle but his elite athleticism likely lands him at linebacker or defensive end in college.
Schools took notice after impressive sophomore and junior performances against top North Jersey athletes, and Rutgers coach Chris Ash was the latest with a verbal scholarship offer to the 6-foot-2, 220-pounder. Rutgers sees him on defense, Onyechi said, but the experience as an offensive lineman is valuable.
“It taught me that it’s not about myself, it’s about the team,” Onyechi said. “It makes you tough because you’re going against the biggest people on the team.”
Onyechi is a first-generation American after his parents moved to New Jersey from Nigeria as young adults. His brother Toby Onyechi played defensive line at Liberty.
“It feels great to finally be able to repay them for everything,” Onyechi said. “They’ve been celebrating it a lot. I didn’t expect this to happen, so it’s really surprising but I’m enjoying it to be honest. … I’ve always been told I was a college player but I didn’t believe it. Now that I’m getting all of this recognition, I feel like I have a chance to make it big.”
Rutgers hosted Onyechi as one of its priority recruiting targets during a junior day weekend. He left with an improved vision of the program.
“They really grabbed my attention and surprised me with what they’re doing down there and I feel like maybe I could join that,” he said. “They focus a lot on academics, more than I expected. They have a lot change going into their programs like food and the weight room.”
Onyechi holds offers from both Temple and Rutgers after an exciting February. He likely re-visits both programs in the spring, where he seeks more academic information as an interested kinesiology major.
The 6-foot-2, 220-punder projects as an outside linebacker but he is open and versatile enough to play multiple defensive roles.
“I think I’m a linebacker for sure, but you can put me on the line in some cases,” he said. “I’m good at rushing, I like a weakside d-end position.”
In addition to his role as a pass protector and swarming linebacker with West Orange, Onyechi can expect reps at defensive end and tight end heading into his senior season.
“He’s probably been our best player since his sophomore year,” said West Orange head coach James Matsakis. “Unfortunately but fortunately for us, most other schools would have a guy that can play receiver, tight end and tailback but I put him because of his size and athleticism at tackle. We don’t want him off the field. He’s been our fastest player the last two years.”
Matsakis, who also coached from Rutgers receiver Andrew Turzilli, spoke equally highly of Onyechi’s off-the-field character.
“He’s a good program kid that will be a great player,” Matsakis said. “He has a tremendous upside and the sky is the limit on what he can do.”