Wesley excited as receiver Okike rejoins team

James Okike

DOVER — Arguably Wesley College’s best receiver wasn’t on the football field last fall.

James Okike was back home in Pennsylvania, working at a Foot Locker store.

And telling his high school friends how being academically ineligible last season was just a temporary interruption of his promising career.

“I was letting them know the situation, because I grew up with them,” said Okike. “I told them, ‘I’ll be back in the spring. I’m not done. I have another season left.’”

Now the Wolverines are hoping that the disappointment of losing Okike last season will turn into a silver lining this fall.

The Wolverines are hoping that the disappointment of losing James Okike last season will turn into a silver lining this fall. (Delaware State News file photo)

After just a few days of preseason camp, Wesley offensive coordinator Chip Knapp sees no reason why the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Okike shouldn’t be able to pick up right where he left off.

“He looks dominant right now,” said Knapp. “I can’t wait to see him in the season. He’s going to be something else.

“He’s the toughest matchup (in Division III) probably in the country, because he’s big and he’s fast and he can jump. He’s got the whole package. You don’t see a 6-foot-3, 215-pound receiver who runs a 4.5 (in the 40) at the Division III level.”

But Knapp is quick to point out that Okike had to build himself into that kind of receiver.

In his first two seasons as a Wolverine, Okike had a total of just six catches for 58 yards with one touchdown. Then came his junior season, though.

With future NFL quarterback Joe Callahan at his best, Okike pulled in 79 passes for 1,426 yards and 19 TDs in 2015. The touchdown catch total was the second best in school history while the receptions and yardage were the third most.

In the Wolverines’ three playoff games alone, Okike piled up 27 catches for 508 yards with four TDs.

Okike said he just started watching more film and paying attention to details that season.

“The difference my junior year is I was really focused and I watched a lot of defensive film,” said Okike, who was a D3football.com All-East Region first-team pick that year. “I just bought in fully.

“I love football. I paid attention (before) but I didn’t really apply what I paid attention to to game situations. I felt good because everything I paid attention to, it showed on the field.”

Knapp said Okike might have his biggest influence when the Wolverines get inside the 10-yard line. There aren’t many small-college defensive backs who can outjump the receiver for a ball.

“It makes my life real easy when you don’t have to call three plays inside the 10,” said Knapp. “You just call one and it’s a touchdown.”

The fact that Wesley quarterback Nick Falkenberg, in his second year as a starter, is at the top of his game while junior receiver Alex Kemp emerged as a dangerous receiver last fall, makes Okike’s return look even better for the Wolverines.

“It’s a perfect storm for our offense,” said Knapp.

If Okike’s blend of size and skill make him sound like an NFL prospect, there’s some pro scouts who would agree. But Okike doesn’t want to dwell too much on that possibility.

“When you play football at a good school, definitely the pros is on my mind,” he said. “But I’m moreso focused on the games we have at hand. Delaware Valley on August 31 is definitely the first thing.”

After missing last season, the 24-year-old Okike is just happy to be back on the field again. Many of his high school teammates are done with their playing careers now.

Okike hopes he can turn last year’s setback into a memorable season this fall.

“I definitely missed football last year,” he said. “It was different, because I played football all my life.

“I was upset,” said Okike, who only found out a couple weeks before last season that he was ineligible. “I felt like I should have been playing. When they said I couldn’t come back, I took it on the chin and made sure I could come back in the spring.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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