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Okafor: Primed for an Early Impact

Defensive end is a huge need for Texas and Pflugerville DE Alex Okafor will go a long way towards shoring up depth for the Longhorns in 2009. Based on what he’s displayed as a senior in high school, Okafor’s impact may be as soon as next season.

Inside Texas recruiting analyst Jeff Howe went to Pflugerville’s game against Austin Bowie and breaks down what Okafor will bring to Texas.

If there was one position that the Texas coaching staff made a priority in the 2009 recruiting class, they made it very clear from the get go.

Texas needed defensive ends.

With Brian Orakpo, Aaron Lewis and Henry Melton all out of eligibility after the 2008 season, Mack Brown and staff went to work and quickly landed a pair of pledges in February from East Texas prospects Dominique Jones and Kyle Kriegel to fill holes down the line, while also getting an early offer out to Devon Kennard.

But when Pflugerville star Alex Okafor committed to the Longhorns on Mar. 22 he not only helped ease the Texas coaches’ concerns about their future at defensive end, but in the process they possibly landed a defensive end who will eventually be playing on Sundays.

Yes, Okafor is that talented.

One of the nation’s top defensive end prospects, Okafor chose Texas over LSU and Stanford and gives the Longhorns a solid combination of size (6-5, 230) and speed (4.67).

Though Okafor and his Pflugerville teammates came out on the short end of a 30-29 thriller against Austin Bowie on Thursday night, a game that saw the Bulldogs rally from a 12-point deficit with less than four minutes left in regulation, Okafor showed why he is looked as one of the cornerstones of Texas’ football future.

Okafor was in the face of Bowie quarterback Matt Dodds’ all night, but on Bowie’s final two drives the senior QB was able to step up in the pocket while also effectively using the screen game to negate Okafor’s intense pass rush from the outside.

“I think it was just more of a breakdown,” Okafor said. “I’m not saying we got comfortable or we started slacking, but there were a lot of mental breakdowns and mistakes that killed us.”

Okafor finished the game unofficially with five solo tackles, one sack, two pressures that led directly to interceptions and too many knockdowns and hurries to tabulate. Okafor was in the Bowie backfield on seemingly every snap and constantly harassed Dodds. While Okafor only registered one sack, his pressure was instrumental in the four sacks the Panthers registered and the three interceptions they snagged.

Had the Bulldogs not made their miraculous comeback, the talk after the game would have centered on the effort put forth by Okafor and the defensive front.

“We just tried to make it an issue to block us at first and that’s what we did,” Okafor said. “We just wanted to bring the heat because we know he has a nice arm and they have a nice passing game and we did what we could to disrupt that.”

Okafor showed to be every bit of his listed size. He is still a bit wiry, but that’s good news for the Texas strength and conditioning staff because could potentially add a significant amount of weight to his frame.

Perhaps the best aspect of his game right now is the way he uses his arms at the point of attack. Against Bowie it was obvious that he understands the concept of not letting his man get his hands on him and he does a great job of extending his arms and shedding blocks. Once he is able to shed the block, very few high school defensive ends get into the backfield as quickly as he does.

One thing Okafor does do well is hit and he really brings it when he makes tackles. He caused Dodds to get up slowly from the turf on two occasions; once on a knockdown when he sent Dodds flying backwards and the other coming on his lone sack of the night when he beat his man off of the corner and flattened the Bowie signal caller.

A few of his pressures came when he pursued from the back side as he showed to have not only great closing speed but a high motor, which is an improvement from his junior season.

One thing that Okafor does not have right now is a vast array of pass rushing moves. His only move of choice, other than the bull rush which is what he often went to, was to jab step to the outside and the use a rip move to get underneath his man.

His first step off the ball is not exactly explosive, but he does not come off quick and his arm extension helps make up for his lack of a jump.

Okafor will enroll in school in January and going through spring drills and summer workouts will benefit him greatly and help the staff dip in to his seemingly limitless potential. With Sam Acho and Eddie Jones being the two pure defensive ends with significant experience, Okafor’s chance to make an early impact is likely greater than any other prospect in the class.