NASHVILLE- Chig Okonkwo acquired his first style of soccer on the age of seven, and he was hooked.
Although his first place was hardly a glamorous one.
“Proper sort out,” the Titans tight finish stated with a smile. “I used to be a reasonably large child, so I acquired placed on the road. However the second yr I acquired to play working again, after which receiver. From the very starting, although, I liked soccer. It is one factor I used to be at all times one hundred pc constructive that I needed to do in my life.”
From these early days on the Pop Warner fields exterior Powder Springs, Ga., to his prep days at Hillgrove (Ga.) Excessive Faculty to finally his school years on the College of Maryland, Okonkwo’s love for the sport grew even deeper.
Then it was taken away, and that modified his perspective endlessly.
Midway via his rookie season, Okonkwo appeared again at one of the crucial tough instances of his younger life – when he needed to step away from the sport in 2020 due to a medical situation – and stated the expertise made him much more grateful for his alternative within the NFL, in Tennessee, with the Titans.
“When all that occurred, I did not actually know if I used to be going to get one other probability to play once more,” Okonkwo stated. “Being informed you can’t play anymore, it is like, rattling. However I at all times stored the religion, and at all times stored believing.
“And for me, with the ability to play once more, I by no means take it without any consideration any extra. I’m very appreciative of my alternative. Having the ability to come again, with the ability to play the sport I like, it’s one other stage of appreciation now for certain.”
A fourth-round draft choose of the Titans within the 2022 NFL Draft, Okonkwo sat out the 2020 season at Maryland after being recognized with myocarditis attributable to COVID-19.
Okonkwo stated he started having chest pains in spring of 2020, and he went to the hospital for assessments. He was despatched to a heart specialist, and that is when he was knowledgeable he had scar tissue on his coronary heart.
Docs informed Okonkwo to take a seat out not less than six months. Then, after lingering issues and discomfort, there was purpose to worry the worst.
“I knew then that my season was over,” Okonkwo stated. “And initially, there was worry that will be the top of my enjoying profession.”
Okonkwo, who had appeared in 24 video games over his first two school seasons at Maryland, spent the autumn of 2020 away from his crew due to COVID outbreaks.
He spent a number of instances finding out in his room, largely remoted from others.
“A whole lot of considering,” he stated. “I watched a number of NFL video games.”
Ultimately, Okonkwo started to really feel higher, and extra cardiac assessments confirmed his coronary heart had healed.
He returned to soccer in 2021, when he began all 13 video games for the Terrapins and posted career-high marks with 52 catches for 447 yards and a team-leading 5 touchdowns.
Alongside the way in which he grew to become an intriguing prospect for NFL groups. He ended up in Tennessee, the place the Titans have been happy together with his progress.
“He has executed an excellent job,” Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill stated of Okonkwo. “For a younger participant, benefiting from his alternative is precisely what he has executed. Any time he will get in there and has a ball come his manner, it looks like he does an excellent job of getting open, making the catch, and being a tricky, bodily runner as soon as he has the ball in his palms.”
In 10 video games this season, Okonkwo has eight catches for 172 yards and a landing.
Okonkwo caught a 31-yard go in opposition to the Packers, his third straight sport with a catch of not less than 30 yards. Okonkwo caught a 41-yard go in opposition to the Broncos, and he turned a brief reception in opposition to the Chiefs right into a 48-yard achieve. Okonkwo scored his first NFL landing in opposition to the Colts on October 2.
Okonkwo is the Titans’ solely tight finish because the begin of the 2000 season to have a reception of not less than 30 yards in three consecutive video games.
Titans coach Mike Vrabel stated the crew wants to seek out extra methods to get Okonkwo the ball.
“He’s definitely working at it,” Vrabel stated of Okonkwo. “He is working his manner in there and persevering with to attempt to discover a function for us. … He’s utilizing his skillset and his pace whether or not that’s overlaying kicks or being on the punt crew. He’s working laborious at his blocking. He can run . He has been a dependable go catcher. … (We’d like) to proceed to attempt to discover methods to get him the soccer.”
Okonkwo, whose 52 receptions at Maryland ranked second-most by a decent finish in a single season in Maryland historical past behind solely former Titans tight finish Frank Wycheck (58; 1990), stated he is working to be the very best participant he might be within the NFL .
It is clear Okonkwo has made strides.
Okonkwo resides his dream, and grateful for the chance.
“My total life, that is all I’ve recognized,” Okonkwo stated. “I’ve at all times had a particular love for the sport and now, it’s one other stage of appreciation for certain.”