If you thought Sebastian Janikowski was big for a punter, just imagine somebody who stands 6’6” and weighs 320 pounds. That was Pittsburgh Steelers rookie Chukwuma Okorafor’s first taste of playing football after his family moved to the United States from Botswana in 2010 when he was 12 years old.
The Nigerian-born offensive tackle spoke to Teresa Varley over the weekend for the Steelers’ website about his first love, soccer, which was all that he and his friends knew as a sport in his home country. But when his parents sought a better life in America, the sport of choice shifted from one football to another—and one that you’re not supposed to kick, unless you’re a kicker or a punter. The punter position was the one most resembling the game that he knew, so that is the first position that he played upon arriving in the United States when friends and coaches saw him and insisted that he must play.
It wasn’t until his junior year in high school that he outgrew the punter position and developed a tackle frame, the team asking him to make the move. He played three years of tackle in college. Which means that he has been working at the position for just five years.
Okorafor, still just 20 years old, is a massive man with a massive amount of potential in terms of what he can become with the proper development, an opportunity that he will be afforded while working under offensive line coaches Mike Munchak and Shaun Sarrett.
Though he spent the past two years starting at left tackle, and admitted that he feels more comfortable there, he also started a year on the right side and added that he doesn’t really care where he ends up playing. He wants to prove that he can play on both sides.
His further education commenced this past weekend during the team’s rookie minicamp, though that’s not to say that he didn’t have quality coaching while playing at Western Michigan, which is the only school outside of the Power 5 that has produced a lineman taken in the draft in each of the past three classes.
“It’s time to just learn. It’s me just putting my head down and getting to work”, the third-round choice told the team’s website. “I am very excited to be here and just do what I have to do”.
Okorafor is also ready to learn by example. He knows that he is coming into a team that already has two veteran tackles in Alejandro Villanueva and Marcus Gilbert, and is ready to learn from them as well. “Coming in, being somewhat young, I’m only 20-years old, and being able to learn from the two tackles they have who have been in the league for a while”, he said.
The big rookie does have an immediate opportunity in front of him to take hold of the swing tackle job, which has no incumbent after Chris Hubbard left in free agency. He will be competing with third-year tackle Jerald Hawkins, and perhaps Matt Feiler as well.