Pflugerville (Tex.) defensive end Alex Okafor, ranked by Scout.com as the #35 overall prospect in the nation, has received scholarship offers from all corners of the country. His suitors include a laundry list of Big 12 teams such as Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Texas Tech, and Baylor. But his recruitment has also attained a decidedly national feel with SEC powers LSU and Auburn throwing their hats in the ring along with Pac-10 love from Stanford and an ACC offer from Boston College. By late January, Okafor had apparently whittled down his list to Texas, Stanford, and LSU. In the ensuing weeks, he embarked on a series of unofficial visits to that trio in the hopes of coming to a decision.
The most recent trip brought Okafor to Stanford for the Cardinal's March 1 Junior Day. After February trips to Austin and Baton Rouge, the 6'5" 230-pound top prospect trekked West to compare Stanford with his two other favorites. The trip, which was Okafor's first to California, gave him recent points of comparison involving all three of his finalists. He reports that the visit left him with a positive impression of Stanford.
"It was actually a great experience," Okafor shares. "I got to see the city of Palo Alto and it was nice. I liked the weather and everything. Just as far as the program goes, I mean, I like the new coaching staff. They seem like they're hungry to win and they have a lot of energy."
By visiting Stanford during their Junior Day, he also received the benefit of meeting other recruits who are considering Stanford as their college destination. Okafor even struck up a quick bond with a fellow visitor.
"I got to meet Levine," he says of 4-star Stanford tight end commit Levine Toilolo, another prospect ranked in Scout.com's initial Top 100 who made the trip to Palo Alto that weekend. "I think he just recently committed. I got to talk to him a little bit and he seems like a really nice guy. We call each other and talk on the phone, so we pretty much stay in touch."
A strong student, Okafor was also impressed by the intersection of ambitious football and academic seriousness that he found at Stanford. One aspect of his time watching the Cardinal practice in Stanford Stadium particularly stood out.
"One thing that really impressed me was [while] watching the spring practice, Stanford brought out about 12 professors and they were just walking around introducing themselves to the players and parents," he points out. "I really liked that because it shows that the professors really value their student-athletes."
With his sights currently set on pursuing studies related to business or engineering, Okafor plans on being a bona fide student-athlete in college. In high school, he most enjoys studying math and has worked his way into the upper levels of his class academically.
"I have a 4.1 GPA on a 5.0 scale and I'm in the first quartile of my class ranking," Okafor reveals. "I'm pretty much all As and maybe one or two Bs here and there as a student."
No matter how strong a student he is, Okafor understands that like all prospective Stanford recruits he would have to ultimately complete an admissions application and be accepted before matriculating to Stanford. For his part, however, he professes little anxiety and reports that the coaches have already discussed the process with him.
"They explained the application process and they let me know that I do have to apply, but they feel that I have a great chance of being admitted," he says.
Before he focuses on any Stanford admissions materials, however, Okafor knows that he has the college decision itself in front of him. Having visited each of his publicly named favorites within the last five weeks, it stands to reason that he should be substantially closer to a decision. Nonetheless, he says the visits have had a way of simultaneously clarifying and complicating his recruitment.
"It goes both ways," he points out. "I mean, I'm glad I got to see each campus but each school, they had a game plan and they showed me what they had to offer, so it really makes the decision very tough."
When asked to highlight the appeal of each of the three schools, Okafor accentuates distinct attributes for each:
Texas: "What really sticks out is it's right here at home. I mean it's just about 20 minutes from my house so that's a big factor with Texas."
Stanford: "Stanford is the best education you can get and still play big-time D1 football. I mean, that's a great combination."
LSU: "My cousin went there so I kind of have a little family pipeline there so that was great visiting LSU."
As he goes about making his decision, then, fans of the three schools await some indication of the criteria he will apply to sift through these very different appeals. The recruit himself emphasizes the all-important but difficult-to-define notion of finding the best fit.
"I think it will just come down to where I see myself enjoying myself the most in the next four years," Okafor predicts. "So it's really where I'll be able to feel at home and just have a good time."
As he prepares to make that decision, the schools that covet the elite defensive end and student-athlete may wonder when he will be prepared to make his decision now that he has taken a full set of key unofficial visits.
"Well, I'm just really evaluating each school," Okafor says of the status of his recruitment. "I'm just looking at the good and the bad things and really I'm just on a day-to-day basis. Whenever the moment feels right to commit that's when I'm going to commit. I mean, it could be tomorrow or it could be in two months. I couldn't really tell you right now."
Fans and coaches from across the nation will eagerly await that commitment, whenever it comes. Stay tuned.
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