Okoye travels from Nigeria to Vols with an unlimited ceiling

Tennessee began preseason football practices this week with 124 players, which includes walk-on performers.
There are 47 Volunteers from the Volunteer State, with 10 being from Memphis and eight from Nashville. There are 28 Vols from Georgia, seven from Alabama and six from North Carolina.
Freshman tight end Emmanuel Okoye is the lone representative of Anambra, Nigeria, and the 6-foot-5, 230-pounder may already possess the title of Tennessee's most intriguing player.
"He's got a chance to be the most athletic guy to ever play the position," Vols first-year tight ends coach Alec Abeln said in a news conference Thursday. "I truly believe that. He's as physically gifted as anybody I've ever been around.
"He's continuing to make steps every day, but just from a raw, athletic standpoint, the ceiling is unlimited."
The Vols held their second workout Thursday, with rain forcing them indoors.
Okoye (pronounced oh-KOY-ay) signed in May with Tennessee following a globe-trotting journey that spanned several months. He was discovered early last year by former New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons defensive end Osi Umenyiora and his scouts during the inaugural "The Uprise" football talent identification camp in Abuja, Nigeria.
"I did my best — in socks," Okoye said with a smile as he recalled his first encounter with Umenyiora. "He saw the zeal that I had for the game."
Okoye was then invited to NFL Africa's talent identification camp last summer in Ghana, which led to a place last fall at the NFL Academy in Loughborough, England. He became a four-star prospect in the 2023 signing class and selected the Vols over Southern California and Texas Tech.
Projected months ago as an edge rusher, Okoye has spent his first two college practices on offense.
"The choice was left to me," said Okoye, who displayed talents in basketball before taking up football. "I feel like I can use my speed to create more in space."
Okoye is a unique player in a unique position room, with sixth-year senior Jacob Warren representing Tennessee's only tight end to collect a reception for the Vols. Yet McCallan Castles is also a sixth-year senior, having started his college career at California before transferring to UC Davis and then Knoxville, while Ethan Davis joins Okoye on the four-star newcomer front.
Davis is from the Atlanta suburb of Suwanee.
"It's definitely interesting, because you've got guys you really want to talk some detailed stuff with and some really nuanced stuff, and you've got other guys who are literally learning the game of football," Abeln said. "Ethan has come a long way since the spring in terms of what he knows, but he is still a young guy.
"It's a credit to the older guys for being patient, and there are a lot of times they're coaching the young guys before I ever have to, which makes it really pretty cool."
Abeln admitted the biggest challenge with Okoye, given his lack of a football background, is getting him to a certain level of understanding amid the big-picture objectives the Vols are seeking to accomplish in these first couple weeks of camp.
"When he first got on campus, you're drawing 22 bodies on the board and you're talking about alignments and about big-picture coverages," Abeln said. "It was very basic level stuff, down to labeling the guys. Now, we're starting to learn how to operate, not just what the route is but how coverage dictates what he's doing on it.
"The technique thing is probably the biggest piece, because everything is brand new. When you're out there thinking about what you're supposed to do, the how to do it gets really tough."
Okoye's story at Tennessee consists of just two practices, with neither one of them in pads. It's a story a lot of Vols and Southeastern Conference fans may be interested in following, and it's one he is looking forward to as well.
"There is no ceiling to what I can accomplish," Okoye said, "so I'm just going to keep pushing for the most that I can get. The first day was good. Today was better, and tomorrow will be better."
Resting much easier
Abeln was asked Thursday what it was like finding out that Warren would be returning for his sixth season.
"I started sleeping a lot better," Abeln said. "It changes everything in terms of you knew you had one guy you could count on to go to war with. At that point, you're trying to find the pieces of who is going to be there with him.
"It really made it easier for us."
Duncan times two
Tennessee's roster contains freshman defensive lineman Trevor Duncan, a 6-6, 270-pounder from Knoxville Catholic, and redshirt sophomore tight end Cody Duncan, a 6-1, 239-pound walk-on who began his college career at Virginia Tech.
Trevor is Cody's younger brother but obviously not his little brother.
"I think I got taller than him in about fifth grade," Trevor said this week, "and he was really mad about that."

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