Though he’s been playing organized football since the third grade, Jeffrey Okudah says his interest in football began with the virtual world first.
“I got into it by playing Madden,” Okudah said. “I was playing it for so long, it became part of my life.”
On Wednesday, it got a little more real as he was presented with an honorary jersey for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, as part of the Selection Tour presented by American Family Insurance. The game is Jan. 7 in San Antonio’s Alamodome and will be televised live on NBC at 1 p.m. (ET).
Okudah, a senior at South Grand Prairie (Grand Prairie, Texas), was a preseason American Family Insurance ALL-USA selection and is considered the No. 1 defensive back in the 247Sports.com’s composite rankings for the Class of 2017.
Some recruiters see Okudah as a safety, others as a cornerback. Okudah, who is 6-1 and 190 and runs a 4.49 40-yard dash, said he feels comfortable at either spot.
“I can do both,” he said. “Based on the receivers I’ve covered in camps, I feel I’m a shutdown guy.”
Because of his reputation, not many quarterbacks throw his way, but he finds a way to make an impact. He came up with a big fumble return in his team’s 22-20 season-opening defeat of Arlington. In a 39-25 defeat of Martin (Arlington) on Sept. 9, he returned a kickoff 103 yards for a touchdown and had a 71-yard touchdown run.
Those plays fit right in with a phrase he uses on his Twitter and Hudl pages: #SHHH.
“That’s just a little thing I kind of started on Twitter,” he said. “When the other fans are getting too loud, you have to quiet them down and make a play.”
On video, he’s rarely out of the action. He reacts well to plays because he doesn’t overreact to fakes and uses his speed to run down ballcarriers.
“The first thing is you have to play in a system,” Okudah said. “If you try too hard to make things happen, you can get burned. Just be patient and let the play come too you. My speed definitely helps me with my range on the field, to be able to get to places fast. It’s a gift.”
He also likes to hit, one reason he’s seen as a potential safety.
“I just come to play the game with a high-intensity level,” Okudah said. “If there’s a chance at a good hit, I’m always going to go for that. I do that, just knowing that (an opponent who gets hit hard) isn’t going as hard the next play, that maybe he’ll take it a little easier than he normally would.”
He said he plans to graduate early and his final six schools are Oklahoma, Ohio State, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia and Southern Cal. There were reports that he’d made up his mind on Ohio State after he saw the Buckeyes beat Oklahoma 45-24 last week in Norman, Okla., but Okudah said he’s in no rush to announce his choice and plans to continue his official visits.
“There’s a little bit of (people rushing to an assumption), because journalists want to get the scoop,” Okudah said. “I know and everyone around me knows the truth, so there’s no real problem. Basically everyone I talk to will be about the academic side of it. All of the schools that I’m looking at can take a guy to the next level in football.”