Ohio State game “amazing” for international import

Class of 2024 three-star linebacker Justin Okoronkwo arrived in New York on Wednesday with a view of College Park and a visit to Maryland Football this weekend.

“We were in Maryland yesterday and I got an offer from Maryland,” Okoronkwo said. “We’re going to be at the game against Ohio State tonight. I’m very excited. We were given a tour around the campus and the facilities were very great. I look forward to returning today.”

Okoronkwo, who measures 6-foot-3, 200 pounds and is considered the No. 32 linebacker in his class, has been to the United States before, camping last summer and receiving offers from Michigan and Penn State in June.

“It was life-changing,” said Okoronkwo. “I came to the States to say, ‘Okay, let’s try. It’s my dream.’ And then it just worked out and it was unreal when I got my first offer. I was so excited and couldn’t believe it.”

The Terps’ offering is a little different from the rest because Okoronkwo’s coach Josh Alaeze, a former Connecticut State standout, is a product of Dunbar, Md. and brother of the former five-star Maryland recruit Melvin Alaeze.

“He was born and raised in Baltimore and his brother was also a big recruit so he knows Coach Locksley too,” Okoronkwo said. “And I think it meant a lot to him that his athlete got an offer from Maryland. And I was excited to tell him.”

Entering football as an international talent is unique as schools in Europe do not field teams for the sport and force players to play for clubs. Okoronkwo started as a goalkeeper in soccer at the age of eight and then switched to gymnastics from the age of 12 to 16 before taking up soccer.

“I think my physical strength is also perfect for football,” said Okoronkwo. “You have to have good body control in gymnastics, and that also applies to football. It is the same.”

Okoronkwo was able to play the first NFL game ever in Germany last weekend Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Seattle Seahawks 21-16. However, an important part of his trip to America that week was his first college football game between Maryland and state No. 2 Ohio.

“I was at the NFL game in Germany, in Munich, my hometown, and there [was] Very nice, but I think audiences in America will be way, way more excited because they really love the game. It’s their culture, which comes from the US, so I think it’s going to be crazy,” Okoronkwo said.

Okoronkwo’s view of the atmosphere was correct as he watched Maryland keep up with the No. 2 Buckeyes in a 43-30 loss.

“That was a great game!” he said. “I had a great time and hope to come back to see another Maryland game soon.”

Recruitment is also a different feeling than an international prospect as Okoronkwo is not in constant communication with the coaching staff like prospects in the US are.

“When I’m at home, it’s like a normal day, I go to school or training,” Okoronkwo said. “I don’t really know how [big the] recruitment process is because my recruitment organization PPI really works for me and my recruitment process most of the time. I am very grateful to Coach Brandon [Collier], [who] helps me through the entire recruitment process. I mean, without him it wouldn’t be possible.”

Okoronkwo is planning more visits to the United States, keeping an eye on Penn State and Illinois, among other places, over the next week. He is looking for a school that can help him grow as a football player and achieve his dream of playing in the NFL, academics also being an important factor.