Okoli and Latimore Return to Penn State to Work Out Their NFL Dreams
Chima Okoli spent part of last summer in the Seattle Seahawks’ training camp, blocking for rookie quarterback Russell Wilson.
At the same time, Eric Latimore was in Mankato, Minn., trying to get a grip on Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.
As it turns out, in 2012 Wilson and Peterson went on to have two of the most amazing seasons in NFL history. And while former Penn State teammates Okoli and Latimore did not make the final cut for either NFL team, they did learn one thing:
They want another chance. And at a combined 154 inches and 595 pounds, they want in a big way.
“Honestly, I feel I am good enough to play in the NFL,” said Okoli, an offensive tackle who started 21 of his final 22 games at Penn State in 2010-11. “I’m not about wasting time or space. I believe that the opportunity for success is there. God put me on that path, and I’m not done yet.”
Latimore, a defensive end who started 14 games over three seasons for Penn State, feels the same way. “Being there was eye-opening,” said Latimore this week. “Coming from Penn State, I had seen a lot of talent, so that was nothing new. It was disappointing not making the team, but I know I can compete with those guys.”
Okoli and Latimore are putting their money – what little they have – where their mouths are. The two are about to move back to State College, within walking distance of the campus they left in 2011, after graduating with a degree in crime, law and justice (Latimore) and two degrees, in advertising/PR and media studies (Okoli). They’re putting their lives on hold for the next 100 days or so, to focus everything they have on a second shot at the NFL.
They’re working their cellphones, looking for jobs to fund their dreams while they train full-bore in hopes of playing pro football (and here’s the commercial interruption: If you have any leads, contact Okoli at firstname.lastname@example.org).
They’ll know their next big step will be on Saturday, April 27, the minute the seventh and final round of NFL Draft is over. That’s when all 32 NFL teams will take to the telephones to fill their rosters and sign scores of free agents. Okoli, a native of Virginia Beach, Va., and Latimore, from Middletown, Del., hope they get the call.
In preparation, they’ll be doing big doses of lifting, running, stretching and footwork drills. They have been welcomed by their alma mater with open arms, beginning with Craig Fitzgerald, Penn State’s director of strength and conditioning. “Fitz has been phenomenal,” Okoli said. “He’s been great about us working out there. It’s still a sense of family, of community. Our program was good before, but it will be great to try something new, with their Olympic style lifting. We want a piece of that.”
Coach Bill O’Brien has put out the welcome mat as well.
“Look,” said O’Brien, according to Okoli, “this is your weight room. We definitely want you here. Whatever we can do to help, we will.”
Okoli and Latimore expect to be joined on occasion by former teammate Ollie Ogbu. A defensive tackle, Ogbu has spent time on the practice squads of Philadelphia and Indianapolis in the NFL and Montreal in the CFL over the past two seasons. Ogbu, a 2010 graduate, holds two undergraduate degrees from Penn State – just like Okoli.
So these guys are smart. They know sticking in the NFL is far from a sure thing, but they had a taste, and now they want a seat at the table.
“It was great being in Seattle. Amazing,” said Okoli, who connected with fellow Penn Staters and Seahawk veterans Michael Robinson and Deon Butler. “Pete Carroll is such high energy. I’ve never seen anything like him. And Wilson is the real deal. I knew it back then, but a lot of people didn’t believe.”
For his part, Latimore spent his preseason days literally rubbing elbows with the NFL’s top D-lineman. Defensive tackle Kevin Williams has started every game for the Vikings since entering the league in 2003, while defensive end Jared Allen has tallied the most sacks of any NFL player since being drafted in 2004.
“Minnesota has some real studs, especially on defense,” said Latimore. “Allen, he’s crazy. When he comes into the room, you do the man thing, and size him up. And you know that Williams is going to be in the Hall of Hame.”
When Latimore was in Minnesota’s training camp last summer, Peterson was still working his way back from ACL and MCL surgery. But the former Penn State defensive end knew that the former Oklahoma running back was going to be OK – although no one predicted he would run for more than 2,000 yards in 2012. “We saw the way AP moved,” Latimore said, “and even then you knew he was going to be fine.”
Latimore wouldn’t mind getting another shot at Peterson – even if means making another NFL team's roster.
“I’m shooting for the NFL,” Latimore said. “It doesn’t matter where.”