‘I imagine myself making plays’
LARAMIE – Sometimes, John Okwoli allows his imagination to run wild.
He pictures himself lined up out wide. He peers in at the
quarterback. Their lips aren’t moving. Neither are their eyes. But both know
what is about to happen.
The ball is coming his way.
First, he stutter steps. Then, he blows right past the
cornerback, using his 23-mile per hour speed to get open. He lifts his left
hand high into the air. He is ready for the ball.
Here it comes.
“I do have those thoughts in my head,” Okwoli said. “I think
about them all the time: what will I do when I get the ball in my hands? I’m constantly
thinking about making plays. I imagine myself making plays. It keeps me ready
and focused if I ever do get the opportunity.”
Mike Grant daydreams, too.
Wyoming’s wide receiver’s coach wonders when Okwoli will
have his breakout performance.
Through three games, the senior from Phoenix has been
targeted just four times. He has two receptions for 11 yards.
Okwoli approached Grant during the offseason. He expressed
his desire to be the best. An ACL tear and a broken hand, which effected his
last two campaigns, he said, were in the rear-view mirror. Healthy and hungry,
Okwoli showed up with a different mindset this fall, Grant said.
“He’s tremendously improved,” Grant said. “He might be one
of the fastest guys we have. He’s just really made up his mind that he needed
to improve on his speed and catching the ball. He’s done that. He knows the
playbook now, backward and forward. He’s not out there thinking, he’s reacting.
“We are seeing some of those things we’ve been expecting to
Okwoli will be the first to admit that things haven’t
exactly gone as planned during his college career. He was a highly sought-after
recruit out of North Canyon High School. Power-5 teams Colorado and Washington
State showed interest. So did Boise State, Nevasa, UNLV and Utah State.
He felt comfortable at Wyoming. But with that luxury came
reality -- the Cowboys feature a run-first offense.
That, coupled with injuries and inconsistencies are
responsible for his career stat line that reads like this: 17 catches, 179
yards, one touchdown.
“It’s obviously tough,” he said of his production. “That’s
not where I want to be. I’m just a player who does what I’m told. I can’t
control that we only call a certain amount of pass plays. I can’t control
getting the ball thrown to me. I just go out, put my head down and do what the
coaches tell us to do.
“They always tell us that they are going to need me at some
point and to stay ready. That’s what I try to do.”
Those quotes might come off as defiant.
They aren’t. Not one bit.
Okwoli, though he would love to snag 10 balls a game, said his main concern is the win column. He said watching the backs of Xazavian Valladay, Sean Chambers or Trey Smith as they break big runs is just as big of an adrenaline rush for him as scoring the touchdown himself.
However, he said, he can’t lie – somedays it feels like the
team is winless, not 3-0, heading into the final non-conference game against
Tulsa Saturday afternoon.
“It is pretty tough. It gets frustrating sometimes,” he said
of the lack of production coming from the Cowboys passing game, which is ranked
128th in the nation out of 130 teams. “We want to contribute to this
team like every other position group. Some of us are feeling like we aren’t contributing
to our success.”
There’s a silver lining though.
“The great thing about it is, we still haven’t lost a game,”
Okwoli continued. “We are 3-0. So, it’s better to be feeling like this and be
undefeated. Moving forward, we’re just going to have to find a way to show we
can do this.”
He, like Grant, knows that this one-dimensional offensive attack
won’t hold up in the long run. Grant says the defense dictates who catches
passes. The coaching staff doesn’t target certain receivers. Right now, that,
combined with a few other issues, he said, have made stagnated the passing
“If I was a young coach, this would be very frustrating,”
Grant said. “In my experience, I’ve seen the ebbs and flows of a season. As my
mom always used to say, ‘it will all come out in the wash.’ I’m not hitting the
panic button or wanting to go in and talk to coaches about what is happening.
We are a run-first offense. We know it, coaches know it, players know it -- we
want to dominate the line of scrimmage. We just need to be ready to perform
when we are called upon.”
This week, Okwoli will continue to imagine himself dusting
the Golden Hurricane secondary and trotting into the end zone. He hasn’t
thought of a celebration yet.
He’s taking one dream at a time.
Okwoli feels like his time is coming. He said the wide receivers’
unit -- and the young redshirt freshman quarterback – will get their chance to
shine. Maybe even this week.
“Hopefully we can find our groove through the air,” he said.
“Moving forward, it would be nice for the wide outs, and Sean, to get more opportunities
to show country we can pass the ball, too …
“I’m going to be ready for it.”