Defensive Player of the Year
by Aaron Garcia
Recording 70 tackles and nine sacks is a heck of a year for a high school defensive end. It certainly did the trick for Ardrey Kell’s Romeo Okwara, who, after recording those stats as a junior in 2010, emerged as one of the state’s elite pass rushers and gained national recruiting attention before committing to Notre Dame.
But this season, Okwara aimed to make himself more than a pass rusher, opting instead to transform into the most disruptive defender in south Charlotte football. The 6-foot-5, 235-pound Okwara said he worked on improving his ability to diagnose offensive plays, and prided himself on “getting to the ball every play and not stopping,” no matter who had the ball.
Okwara excelled at the approach. The senior recorded 76 tackles, 27 of which were for a loss. Okwara also broke up three passes, forced a fumble and blocked a potential game-tying field goal that ensured a win over South Mecklenburg. Coaches around the state noticed his performance and named him to the 2011 Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas all-star game.
“I did better at (defending the run) this year than last year,” Okwara said. “I feel like last year I just tried to get to the quarterback, but I tried to play a little bit slower this year, I guess you could say. That helped me make a lot more plays.”
For his multi-faceted impact on the Knights’ defense, Okwara has been named Carolina Weekly Newspaper Group’s 2011 Southern Mecklenburg Defensive Player of the Year.
Okwara still recorded 14 sacks and 18 quarterback hurries, so perhaps the term “slower” should be replaced by “more controlled.”
“I think I got better at that through our (team) workouts,” said Okwara. “All the moves (assistant coach Greg) Jachym taught me helped me be a better player.”
But Okwara hasn’t lost sight of the impact he had as a full-steam-ahead edge rusher, both on the opposing quarterbacks and the players charged with keeping the signal-callers on their feet. It became common to see Okwara power through – or around – an opposing lineman. And whether Okwara’s opponent was left grasping at air or picking himself up from the turf, the impact usually was the same.
“When you hit the quarterback, it sends a message to him, and that really helps your team,” Okwara said. “As a defense, that’s what we typically try to do. You try to mess the offense up as much as possible.”