Wesley notebook: Okike tackles studies, stars as receiver

Wesley’s James Okike (11) listens to offensive coordinator Chip Knapp along with fellow receivers Alex Kemp (5) and Dan Kesack (10). (Wesley sports information)

DOVER — Mike Drass would love to tell you every player makes it back.

In a perfect world, every Wesley College football player who runs into academic troubles would get their act together and return to the team.

But Drass knows better.

“You always think guys are going to do it,” said the Wolverines’ veteran coach. “But it’s not easy. If you’re not part of it (the team), man, it’s easy to walk away from it.”

James Okike was one of the guys who found his way back.

And 14th-ranked Wesley (6-0 NJAC, 6-1 overall) is glad to have the standout receiver as it takes a six-game winning streak to Montclair State (3-3 NJAC, 3-4) for a 1 p.m. New Jersey Athletic Conference game on Saturday.

Despite dealing with an ankle injury, James Okike is the Wolverines’ leading pass-catcher with 37 catches for 538 yards and six touchdowns. (Wesley sports information)

Despite dealing with an ankle injury, Okike is the Wolverines’ leading pass-catcher with 37 catches for 538 yards and six touchdowns.

The 6-foot-4, 225-pound senior, though, wouldn’t have been back on the field if he didn’t succeed in the classroom first.

After failing off the squad before last season, Okike spent last year taking classes. He finished the fall semester with a 3.7 GPA.

“I definitely was proud of that because I really worked hard on making sure my grades were high enough,” said Okike. “I passed all my classes with flying colors so I could come back.

“When I first saw them (his transcripts) and I saw the ‘3.7’ — and then my final grades actually went through and I really saw a 3.7 — I texted him (Drass) and said, ‘I got a 3.7. You’ll see it in the transcripts.’ He was happy for me. I knew he was proud.”

Okike said he only had himself to blame for slipping up in the classroom in the first place.

“I’ve never been the type of person not to be focused on school work,” he said. “My parents emphasized school work before sports. When I did what I had to do — what I’m supposed to be doing, which is focus on school, then sports — I got to come back.

“When I first moved in (to the dorm), I was ecstatic. I was excited for lifting, I was excited just to see the team I was going to play with. I’m definitely a better person now. I feel like I learned so much. The coaches talked to me and they were keeping me up. When I came back, they welcomed me with open arms.”

Okike is coming off his biggest game of the season. He pulled in eight passes for 142 yards and a pair of TDs in Wesley’s 29-9 victory over Kean on Saturday.

But Okike said he was just as happy when he grabbed only two catches for eight yards in the Wolverines’ 27-24 overtime victory at Frostburg State on Oct. 7. Hobbled by his ankle injury, he was mainly used as a decoy in that game.

“I didn’t care about catching the ball, I just wanted to win the game,” said Okike. “Then, when we blocked the field goal (on the last play), I was running around like I didn’t even have a sprained ankle. I picked up Coach (Chip) Knapp and carried him like five yards.

“I was just happy that we won the game. He had a big smile on his face — and you know Coach Knapp, it’s hard to get him to smile.”

Gono getting noticed

Drass isn’t interested in making any predictions about Matt Gono’s future.

All he knows is that 29 of the NFL’s 32 teams have sent somebody to Dover this fall to look at the talented senior offensive tackle.

The New York Giants were just in this week to check out the 6-foot-4, 305-pounder.

“I don’t know what that means,” said Drass. “But that’s a lot of interest. And they don’t come in and just say, ‘Hi.’ They’re sitting down, watching film for hours at a time. They’re watching film longer than we are.”

Pushing through

Drass said a number of Wesley players are dealing with minor injuries right now.

But he also said that’s pretty typical for this time of the year.

Drass said he usually learns a lot about his younger players during this stretch — especially the ones who aren’t playing in games.

“Every year you get to this point and you see who the future of your team is going to be,” said Drass. “Kids who start to disappear aren’t going to be with you in the future. You’re building around those guys.

“It’s an interesting time period but it’s a frustrating time period because you’re preparing for a game on Saturday.”

Extra points

Freshman defensive end Stefon Woodruff, the St. Georges grad who transferred from Delaware, is second in the NJAC with eight sacks. … Wesley’s junior varsity (3-0) will host the New Jersey Warriors on Sunday at 1 p.m. … Wesley remained No. 14 in this week’s D3football.com poll for the third straight week.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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