It's because of prospects like Okoye, who have overwhelming résumés but limited experience, that NFL teams budget roughly $750,000 annually for collegiate scouting. The Bills and Redskins have already visited Okoye three times each this spring. On one recent day, the Azusa Pacific practice field looked like a cattle auction, with Okoye prancing around for scouts from the Bengals, Colts, Raiders, Steelers, Dolphins, Jets and Buccaneers. The Oilers flew him to Houston for a closer look.
NFL teams have wildly different opinions about Okoye. "I don't think he'll go later than the second round," says Dick Steinberg, the New England Patriots director of player personnel. "He's behind in experience, but he makes up for it with so much ability. There are never a lot of big backs in any draft. He's a commodity."
Says Ernie Accorsi of the Cleveland Browns, "Okoye is a bull fullback with halfback speed. He could be a first-rounder.... I don't worry about his age. The NFL life expectancy of a running back is five years.... He'll have younger, fresher legs than every other running back his age."
Others are not so sure if Okoye can make it, classifying him as a "project player," a middle-to-late-round pick who will need at least two years of tutoring before becoming an NFL starter.
"We've all got to be careful," says George Young, the New York Giants general manager. "Are we becoming too imaginative in the draft? Are we trying to make guys into players?"
Says Reed Johnson, head of player personnel for Denver, "Think of the acceleration from Azusa Pacific to playing against the Raiders! What a shock." Especially for someone who fumbled 26 times in 28 games at Azusa.
Okoye grew up in Enugu (pop. 800,000), in eastern Nigeria. His father, Benedict Ike, now 63, was in the military. His mother, Cecilia, died of a stroke at 48, two years before her son left for the United States. The fifth of seven children, Okoye goes by the nickname "Cho-Cho."
"When I first got here, I couldn't cope," Okoye says. "I'd wake up at night, calling out for my mother. I'd lie there and cry, trying to be quiet.
"I moved into an apartment with Innocent and two other fellows. We ate fufu, played music and talked about life in Enugu."
The Okoye family belongs to the Ibo tribe. When Cho-Cho was six, Ibo insurgents seceded from Nigeria and established the Republic of Biafra. Four of Okoye's uncles fought in the resulting civil war, from 1967 to '70. "People carried machine guns in the streets," Okoye says. "I used to hide in my grandfather's basement." After the defeat of Biafra, the Okoyes were spared, but the Ibo are still sometimes discriminated against.