Mission Accomplished

<b>Chaparral (Ariz.)</b> senior All-American <b>Ekom Udofia</b>, rated the nation's No. 1 defensive lineman by SchoolSports.com, attacks goals and quarterbacks with equal intensity.

This article appears in the September 2004 edition of SchoolSports magazine.

Hanging from the bedroom wall of the country's most feared prep defensive lineman is a list of lofty goals atypical of most high school athletes. Most anyone, actually.

The list, which Chaparral senior Ekom Udofia drafted the summer before his freshman year, includes both school- and football-related goals, ranging from arbitrary aspirations, such as reaching various weight-lifting plateaus, to more calculated ambitions.

"Ekom's long-term goals are to play on Sundays," says Chaparral 10th-year head coach Ron Estabrook. "He told me that when he was a freshman. I don't think we'll ever have a defensive lineman as good as him."

And ever since his freshman year, Udofia has been working his way through that checklist. Slowly but surely.

Dominate high school football? Check.

A year after starring on the freshman team as a 6-foot, 225-pound linebacker and fullback, Udofia gained 20 pounds of muscle and was dominant as a varsity defensive lineman during his sophomore season, registering 78 tackles, nine sacks and one fumble recovery to help lead the Firebirds to the 2002 Class 4A state title.

Then, as a 6-foot-2, 270-pounder last year, Udofia established himself as a blue-chip recruit by recording 51 tackles, 10 sacks and two fumble recoveries despite facing a constant barrage of double and triple teams. Chaparral finished 12-1 last season, losing to eventual state champion Sunnyside in the semifinals, and has gone 25-2 in Udofia's two years on varsity.

"Even our kids don't like to be lined up against him," says Estabrook, who has led Chaparral to three state titles (1999, 2000, 2002) in the past six seasons. "He's very strong for a high schooler. If I was a center, I wouldn't want to be lined up against him."

Become an All-American? Check.

Udofia, now a 6-foot-2, 290-pound beast, is a preseason SchoolSports All-American. He's also rated the nation's No. 1 defensive lineman and No. 11 overall recruit in the Class of 2005 by SchoolSports.com.

Earn a college scholarship to a top-flight program? Quasi-check.

By the time this summer rolled around, Udofia had already received scholarship offers from 26 big-time programs, including defending co-national champ USC, but had yet to commit to a school. At press time, USC, Miami, Georgia, Stanford and Oklahoma were his top choices.

Udofia's older brother, Udeme, is a redshirt freshman linebacker at Stanford and his sister recently graduated from there, but that doesn't necessarily mean the Cardinal has an advantage over other schools. Ekom, who plans on studying business in college, says his college destination will come down to several factors, including academics. And with a 4.1 weighted GPA on a 4.0 scale, Udofia has been able to check off his academic goals to ensure those scholarship offers don't go to waste.

"The NFL has always been at the back of my mind, but I try to take it one step at a time," says Udofia, who turned 17 in August. "High school-wise, I think I've accomplished everything. Now I've got to finish up well and get ready for college."

Despite his impressive resume, Udofia is still years away from checking off his most lofty goals, including earning All-American honors in college and making the NFL.

But according to Estabrook, it could be just a matter of time.

"I think he has all makings to keep moving up," says Estabrook. "I think that if he keeps improving and keeps his work ethic, he's a candidate for the NFL. The next four years in college are going to be real important for him to find out if he can play against quick 300-pound offensive linemen. I believe he can."

That isn't just talk. Udofia isn't some arrogant athlete whose ego is writing checks his body can't cash. Nor is Estabrook a coach overhyping his prized player.

For Pete's sake, the kid's work ethic puts Ray Lewis' routine in those Under Armour commercials to shame.

Udofia was only 14 when he started preparing for the 2009 NFL Draft. After his freshman season, he hired former NFL linebacker Alex Semenik as his personal trainer to prepare for the physical rigors of varsity ball and morph from a stout frosh into a quarterback's worst nightmare.

Growing up, Udofia was always too big for his own good. He was too heavy for Pop Warner football throughout elementary school and most of middle school. Instead, he developed agility and balance while playing soccer, basketball and baseball — sports that were inclusive to all weight classes. Once he was finally able to hit the gridiron as an eighth-grader, Udofia found his calling.

But to make up for lost time, he's had to work extra hard. Enter Semenik.

"I knew once I started playing football that that's what I wanted to do, so I decided I wanted to put the time into it," says Udofia, a first-generation American whose parents hail from Nigeria. "[Semenik] was a guy who had played professionally and knew what to do to get there."

This summer, Udofia spent two hours a day, four days a week with his Chaparral teammates, lifting weights and conditioning in 100-degree weather in the morning and mid-afternoon. Then later in the afternoon, he worked on supplemental lifting, stretching and sprinting with Semenik for two more hours.

Thanks to that workout regimen, Udofia has gained roughly 20 pounds of muscle in each of the past three offseasons and now runs the 40-yard dash in less than 5.0 seconds. He also benches more than 400 pounds and squats more than 600.

Check, check by the way.

That's not to say there are no more checkmarks to add to his list. According to Estabrook, Udofia still has a lot to work on before he completes the checklist.

For example, Udofia's numbers declined last year and at the end of his sophomore campaign once opposing teams started focusing on him. That's why he spent this summer working on techniques to combat double and triple teams as well as cut blocks.

But techniques can only do so much. Soft-spoken and gentle off the field, Udofia needs to start playing with a chip on his shoulder, Estabrook says.

"He has it in him, but he's just a really nice kid," says Estabrook. "He's not a passive kid, but he has to learn how to turn it on. When you dominate people so completely like he does in high school, sometimes it's hard to know that you can do so much more. He has to get to the point of saying, ‘Just because I'm winning this battle doesn't mean it's my best.'"

Once he reaches that point, the checklist will be history.

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