We’re previewing Maryland football’s roster one position group at a time this summer. This week, we’re focusing on the tight ends, which figure to have a larger role this year than they have in a long time.
Mike Locksley and staff will have seven tight ends at their disposal this season, but Chigoziem Okonkwo might be the most dangerous weapon in the group. The sophomore is a freak athlete who was the leading pass-catcher at the position last season, and he even showed some prowess in the running game as well.
Chigoziem Okonkwo, No. 9
Hometown: Powder Springs, Ga.
High school: Hillgrove
2018/career stats: 6 rec, 69 yds, 1 TD; 3 rush, 72 yds, 3 TDs
Okonkwo was a three-star tight end coming out of Hillgrove, receiving offers from nearby Georgia Tech as well as Navy and Wisconsin. The 247Sports Composite rated him as the No. 23 tight end in the nation, but ESPN ranked him as high as No. 8.
While he was rather undersized for his position, Okonkwo’s athleticism was off the charts. He received a high SPARQ rating thanks to a 4.74 40-yard dash and a 4.63 20-yard shuttle, showcasing his ability to be a matchup nightmare for opposing linebackers and safeties alike.
Okonkwo was Maryland’s best tight end by far in 2018.
It was a low bar to clear, as the position has been largely forgotten in the passing game in recent history. Last season, tight ends only had 82 receiving yards — Okonkwo had 69 — and in 2017, they were ignored entirely, not catching a single pass.
But nevertheless, the then-freshman shined in limited opportunity and was one of the few bright spots in the passing game. He averaged over 11 yards per catch and found the end zone against Illinois, hauling in a 25-yard pass from Kasim Hill in acrobatic fashion.
Well this one is just getting out of hand. Kasim Hill to Chigoziem Okonkwo for 6.— Jared Goldstein (@_jgoldy17) October 27, 2018
It's 49-12, Terps. It feels even more lopsided than that. pic.twitter.com/40KCgTtfJI
Okonkwo also scored two rushing touchdowns on just three carries. He housed a pair of jet sweeps: a 54-yard scamper against the Illini and a 21-yard rush against Minnesota. But perhaps most notably, he recovered an Anthony McFarland fumble in the end zone against Ohio State, giving the Terps the lead with under two minutes to go.
ANTHONY MCFARLAND FUMBLED IT INTO THE END ZONE AND CHIG OKONKWO RECOVERED IT FOR A TOUCHDOWN AND MARYLAND LEADS 45-38 WIITH 1:41 LEFT pic.twitter.com/VviWZC6SXK— Jared Goldstein (@_jgoldy17) November 17, 2018
He’s the leading incumbent, but there will still be competition.
If the Red-White Game was any indication, Okonkwo will play a large role in the offense this season. Tight ends were featured prominently, but the rising sophomore stood out above the rest. He hauled in seven passes from teammate Max Bortenschlager, racking up 63 yards and scoring a pair of touchdowns. Okonkwo was the only player to score twice on the day, and he led both teams in catches.
He’s the only player in the room to have caught a pass with Maryland after the graduation of Avery Edwards (four catches, 13 yards). While Michael Cornwell didn’t catch a pass in a game, he appeared in 11 contests ast season for the Terps. The senior walk-on left the program following the spring game.
However, the Terrapins picked up a valuable graduate transfer in the offseason. Tyler Mabry — who caught 27 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns with Buffalo last year — will provide veteran leadership and could potentially have a leading role in the offensive scheme. But if Okonkwo can continue to impress with his athleticism, he’ll carve out a role for targets on an offense that will look to utilize multiple tight ends frequently, as shown by the spring game and Locksley’s use of the position at Alabama.