Chukwuma Okorafor didn't have to play in the MAC.
The powerful left tackle held offers from Oklahoma, Florida, Nebraska, Arkansas, and Iowa, but elected to sign with Western Michigan in 2013. The Southfield, MI resident chose a program closer to home and found instant success in Kalamazoo.
Despite all of the prestigious offers, Okorafor wasn't familiar with the game of football until high school. He moved to the United States from Botswana in 2010, previously living in Nigeria and South Africa. In eight months, Okorafor is expected to be a high NFL Draft selection.
Okorafor started all 27 of Western Michigan's games in the past two seasons, moving from right to left tackle at the beginning of the 2016 football season. The redshirt senior has been gifted with great mentors during his time on campus. Former Western Michigan offensive tackle Willie Beavers was selected by the Minnesota Vikings in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Last year, Okorafor lined up opposite of right tackle Taylor Moton. Moton, who played the last three seasons with Okorafor, heard his name called in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers.
Now is Okorafor's time.
He stands 6-feet-6-inches tall and weighs 330 pounds — an ideal build for a professional left tackle. Left tackles have one of the hardest roles on the field: protecting their quarterbacks' blind sides. And Okorafor blocked well for former quarterback Zach Terrell in the 2016 season. He was named a 2016 First Team All-MAC selection, leading an offensive line that only allowed 16 sacks in 14 contests.
Okorafor has outstanding footwork for a player of his size. With faster, athletic defensive ends becoming a staple in college football, Okorafor can counter these opponents with his impressive combination of strength and speed. Gifted with decent agility, he also has the ability to plow over defenders. Okorafor is especially proficient in the run game, where he blocked an offense that produced 3,194 rushing yards (12th in FBS) and 36 touchdowns (tied for ninth) in 2016.
His running backs, Jamauri Bogan and Jarvion Franklin, will both return to the backfield, but Okorafor will need more assistance on the line in the wake of Moton's absence. Junior center John Keenoy is the other strong-point on the Broncos' line, which is one of the more superior in the MAC. But Western Michigan opens its 2017 slate with road games at USC and Michigan State. These will be two tough challenges for Tim Lester and the Broncos, but Okorafor's presence on the offensive line should help create opportunities in both the passing and rushing game.
Mel Kiper, Jr. ranked Okorafor as the fourth-best draft prospect out of collegiate offensive tackles in 2017. As a Group of Five prospect, his stock should only rise as scouts watch him play this season. Okorafor has all of the abilities of a first-round draft pick and is nearly a lock for First Team All-MAC this season. If Western Michigan's offense is as efficient as the unit was a year ago, Okorafor's name is certain to appear in the conversation for the Outland Trophy award at the end of the season.