The six men from Nigeria are packed into the studio apartment at Azusa Pacific University, 25 miles from Los Angeles, speaking in their native Ibo tongue and dancing to Afro rock songs.
Christian Okoye, 25, from Enugu, Nigeria, who is Africa's best discus thrower and America's best small-college running back, stands over the kitchen stove, stirring a dish called fufu. It is a pungent Nigerian stew made of beef, smoked fish, spinach, tomatoes, a dash of red pepper and lots of pureed okra.
Into a pot of boiling water, Okoye (pronounced oh-KOY-yea) dumps half a bag of flour. Up bubbles a gigantic mound of dough. The dough is used to mop the fufu off the plate. It is inappropriate to eat fufu any other way.
Okoye believes in this delicacy the same way Popeye believes in his spinach. A little more than a year ago Okoye claimed that in the 35-pound-weight throw he couldn't go farther than 54 feet. Then, just before the Los Angeles Times indoor track meet on Feb. 21, 1986, Okoye says, he devoured a big batch of fufu. Ta-da. His top throw that night was a personal best 69'1¾".
"After each throw, Christian would shout, 'Can you see what fufu is doing?' " countryman Innocent Egbunike, a world-class runner in the 400 meters, says, laughing. "Pretty soon, every athlete at Azusa Pacific was on his doorstep, begging to try the stuff."
Okoye is one of the most intriguing and multitalented candidates for the NFL's collegiate draft, which this year is on April 28. He holds the African record in the discus (212'4") and is a 17-time NAIA All-America in the discus, shot put and the 35-pound-weight and hammer throws. Three years ago, he took up football after having seen the sport only a few times on American television. He twice became an NAIA first-team All-America.
Last season Okoye averaged more rushing yards per game (186.7) than any college runner in the nation. In the Senior Bowl, with dozens of NFL bird dogs watching, he scored a record four touchdowns, leading the South to a 42-38 come-from-behind victory, and was his team's outstanding offensive player.
Okoye's physical and athletic skills are breathtaking. At 6'3", 255 pounds, he runs the 40 in 4.45 seconds. He has a 35-inch vertical leap and can long-jump 23'10". Strength? Okoye bench-presses 405 pounds and power-cleans 395. He squats an amazing 725 pounds, making him one of the most powerful football players anywhere, college or pro.
All this from a body with a 34-inch waist and 28-inch thighs. The Ultimate NFL Big Body.
"Christian is one of the best big athletes in the world," says Dr. Terry Franson, who has coached the Azusa Pacific track team to four straight NAIA championships.