COSTA MESA, Calif. — The Rams faced a second down after the two-minute warning in the 4th quarter when quarterback Stenson Bennett dropped back while right guard Sean Maginn engaged Chargers defensive lineman C.J. Okoye.
He showed his quickness by going around Maginn and bringing down Bennett.
“I think that the execution of that stunt that he did, it wasn’t just a straight rush; he had some layers that he had to go in there and execute,” defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley said.
It was the first career sack in his first career game — not just an NFL game but the first game playing organized football. His teammates went crazy and ran onto the field to celebrate with him while he did a sack celebration.
“Watching it is like putting all this together in one; it was a moment for me,” Okoye said. “It was an amazing moment seeing my teammates, see my D-line room go crazy like that. I wish to go back there again.”
His coaches were equally excited for him. After the game, Chargers head coach Brandon Staley presented him with a game ball, which is not customary during the preseason.
This moment was too special to pass up.
“You just saw that sideline,” Staley. “That’s what the NFL is about, stories like that. It’s going to be a memorable moment for our whole team.”
Okoye was playing basketball in Nigeria a year ago when he was approached about a possible tryout. He thought, ‘Why would I need to try out for basketball?’
It was a tryout to see if he could play in the NFL. Okoye is listed at 6’6 weighing 315 pounds.
“I thought about it, and I said, ‘Well, I don’t have anything to lose. I’ll show up, do my thing. If they like me, fine. If they don’t, I’ll go my way,’ Okoye said.
Former Giants Pro Bowl defensive lineman Osi Umenyiora started an initiative called “The Uprise.” He travels to Nigeria, discovering a new generation of football talent and bringing hope to athletes from struggling neighborhoods.
Okoye was assigned to the Chargers after being selected from a pool of talent seen as the next wave of talent from Africa.
“Sometimes it hits me, ‘You’re in the States with the Chargers in the NFL.,” Okoye said. “You need to make the most out of it.’ I’m shocked every day, but I still need to go out and do my thing.”
He was one of eight chosen through the IPP program, where he will remain on the Chargers practice squad all season and not take up a roster spot.
Being only 21 years old at his size, having never played, and having early success could help him grow as a player.
He is growing as a player. During practice on Tuesday, he went one-on-one against starting left guard Zion Johnson and ended up beating him to sack the imaginary quarterback. His teammates went crazy.
“Just to see how he’s been working, it brought me back to when I first started playing and was kind of green to the game, back in my senior year of high school,” Johnson said Monday afternoon about Okoye.
During another moment in practice, he was on the side working with defensive tackle Austin Johnson. He was showing him hand placement and other techniques.
“It’s an amazing feeling seeing my D-line room go 100 for me cause they know I would do the same for them,” Okoye said.
Okoye has been the talk of the NFL as stories have flooded through CNN, Fox News, and various outlets. The NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football” featured a segment on him. Also, he was listed as Rich Eisen’s named Okoye as his number one preseason standout.
He will continue to learn and grow as an NFL while not letting the attention get to his head. As far as a first step, last Saturday was a big one, as his career is barely starting.
“I won’t lie, it’s an awesome feeling, but you don’t go too high, you don’t go too low, just stay in the middle and do your thing,” Okoye said. “For me, it’s just learning the most I can do, go out there and learn because we have the best D-line in the entire league. I want to learn more plays and learn more techniques.”