NASHVILLE – Chig Okonkwo obtained his first style of soccer on the age of seven, and he was hooked.
Although his first place was hardly a glamorous one.
“Proper sort out,” the Titans tight finish mentioned with a smile. “I used to be a fairly large child, so I obtained placed on the road. However the second 12 months I obtained to play operating again, after which receiver. From the very starting, although, I beloved soccer. It is one factor I used to be all the time 100% optimistic that I wished to do in my life.”
From these early days on the Pop Warner fields exterior Powder Springs, Ga., to his prep days at Hillgrove (Ga.) Excessive Faculty to finally his faculty years on the College of Maryland, Okonkwo’s love for the sport grew even deeper.
Then it was taken away, and that modified his perspective without end.
Midway via his rookie season, Okonkwo regarded again at one of the vital troublesome instances of his younger life – when he needed to step away from the sport in 2020 due to a medical situation – and mentioned the expertise made him much more grateful for his alternative within the NFL, in Tennessee, with the Titans.
“When all that occurred, I did not actually know if I used to be going to get one other likelihood to play once more,” Okonkwo mentioned. “Being advised that you could’t play anymore, it is like, rattling. However I all the time saved the religion, and all the time saved believing.
“And for me, having the ability to play once more, I by no means take it with no consideration any extra. I’m very appreciative of my alternative. Having the ability to come again, having the ability to play the sport I really like, it’s one other degree of appreciation now for certain.”
A fourth-round draft decide of the Titans within the 2022 NFL Draft, Okonkwo sat out the 2020 season at Maryland after being identified with myocarditis as a consequence of COVID-19.
Okonkwo mentioned he started having chest pains in spring of 2020, and he went to the hospital for assessments. He was despatched to a heart specialist, and that is when he was knowledgeable he had scar tissue on his coronary heart.
Docs advised Okonkwo to take a seat out at the least six months. Then, after lingering problems and discomfort, there was cause to concern the worst.
“I knew then that my season was over,” Okonkwo mentioned. “And initially, there was concern that will be the tip of my enjoying profession.”
Okonkwo, who had appeared in 24 video games over his first two faculty seasons at Maryland, spent the autumn of 2020 away from his group due to COVID outbreaks.
He spent lots of instances finding out in his room, largely remoted from others.
“Loads of pondering,” he mentioned. “I watched lots of NFL video games.”
Ultimately, Okonkwo started to really feel higher, and extra cardiac assessments confirmed his coronary heart had healed.
He returned to soccer in 2021, when he began all 13 video games for the Terrapins and posted career-high marks with 52 catches for 447 yards and a team-leading 5 touchdowns.
Alongside the way in which he turned an intriguing prospect for NFL groups. He ended up in Tennessee, the place the Titans have been happy together with his progress.
“He has finished a terrific job,” Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill mentioned of Okonkwo. “For a younger participant, benefiting from his alternative is strictly what he has finished. Any time he will get in there and has a ball come his manner, it looks as if he does a terrific job of getting open, making the catch, and being a tricky, bodily runner as soon as he has the ball in his palms.”
In 10 video games this season, Okonkwo has eight catches for 172 yards and a landing.
Okonkwo caught a 31-yard move in opposition to the Packers, his third straight sport with a catch of at the least 30 yards. Okonkwo caught a 41-yard move in opposition to the Broncos, and he turned a brief reception in opposition to the Chiefs right into a 48-yard acquire. Okonkwo scored his first NFL landing in opposition to the Colts on October 2.
Okonkwo is the Titans’ solely tight finish for the reason that begin of the 2000 season to have a reception of at the least 30 yards in three consecutive video games.
Titans coach Mike Vrabel mentioned the group wants to seek out extra methods to get Okonkwo the ball.
“He’s definitely working at it,” Vrabel mentioned of Okonkwo. “He is working his manner in there and persevering with to attempt to discover a function for us. … He’s utilizing his skillset and his pace whether or not that’s overlaying kicks or being on the punt group. He’s working exhausting at his blocking. He can run He has been a dependable move catcher… (We want) to proceed to attempt to discover methods to get him the soccer.”
Okonkwo, whose 52 receptions at Maryland ranked second-most by a decent finish in a single season in Maryland historical past behind solely former Titans tight finish Frank Wycheck (58; 1990), mentioned he is working to be the most effective participant he might be within the NFL .
It is clear Okonkwo has made strides.
Okonkwo resides his dream, and grateful for the chance.
“My total life, that is all I’ve recognized,” Okonkwo mentioned. “I’ve all the time had a particular love for the sport and now, it’s one other degree of appreciation for certain.”