Oct. 1, 2005
by Laura Severson
Waking up at the crack of dawn is tough for anyone. Doing it repeatedly takes a special kind of motivation. Michael Okwo says all the early morning running and lifting, training room visits, and afternoon practices means something. What drives him? "The fact that about a hundred guys are turning off their alarms feeling drowsy and tired but know that everything they do is worth it for just the possibility of being great on Saturday," said Okwo. It all has been worth it for Okwo, who has been great on Saturdays for the Cardinal. The junior inside linebacker learned the game quickly, started his playing days in high school, and looked to inspiration from his family, coaches and teammates to make it happen here at Stanford.
This is Michael Okwo's first season as a Cardinal starter, but in the last two years he has been impressive. In 2003, he played in all 11 games as a true freshman at back-up linebacker and on special teams. Okwo said his first collegiate season was both nerve-wracking and amazing. "It's nerve-wracking because I played special teams, and I knew that no matter what happened I was going to be on the field for the first play," he noted. "And a lot of those players were a lot bigger than me and probably much older. On the other hand, it's amazing because of how much goes into the game." Things were just getting started for the rookie.
In 2003, Okwo showed he could really contribute as a true freshman. He racked up 13 tackles as a special teams player and in 2004 he was honored as a Pac-10, All-Conference selection at special teams. He tallied 39 total tackles and was awarded the Phil Moffat Award as the team's best defensive special teams player as well.
Now a veteran, Okwo plays a critical role for the Cardinal defense and has gotten off to a great start in 2005. In Stanford's season opener against Navy, Okwo had six tackles, and 1.5 tackles for loss for three yards. In the home opener with UC Davis, he stepped up again with eight total tackles, one pass break-up and a share in a sack for a loss of nine yards. Okwo is looking to build from week to week and so far, is doing that. Admittedly, this southern California native is looking forward to playing at the Coliseum, but his focus is Oregon, the next challenge. It sounds like Okwo is taking one day at a time. Each day he is willing to put in the work that will earn him opportunities by practicing hard and pushing his teammates. This very self-motivated athlete does have support from his family and others, some of whom influenced his decision to come to Stanford.
Back in Redondo Beach, California, Michael Okwo grew up following the Los Angeles Lakers and playing baseball and soccer. He had planned to pursue those two sports in high school until he gave into his friends' suggestion. Okwo admitted, "I didn't really plan to play football ... it was a bunch of friends from my elementary school that convinced me to play in high school. I had always been athletic, but I didn't know if I'd be any good at football - you had to lift weights and stuff."
He certainly has become accustomed to the life of a football player. Okwo become one of the best high school linebackers in the country. He credits his linebackers' coach, Bill Lysle, with having the most influence on his football career. "He knew how to teach you if you wanted to learn," he said. "I was always ready to learn from him so I grew tremendously each day as a player. He helped me unlock potential that I would have never believed was in me." Lysle molded his football skills while his family inspired his decision regarding college. Stanford noticed this defensive talent and Okwo noticed Stanford, with the help of his family. "I think my brother and sister had an even bigger influence on my decision," he continued. "They were both academically oriented and attended good schools in Morehouse College (brother) and Princeton University (sister). For that reason, I didn't want to choose a school based on just football. "Michael Okwo was now at a place where he could hone his athletic and academic skills.
Since being at Stanford, he has discovered that each of his teammates is talented and unique, helping make the team what it is. "I think the most important thing I've learned as a player is when to use my creativity or talent on the field," he said. "All of us have been recruited because we bring something special to the team that can help our operation." Okwo understands his role is important, as each player on the team has a role that is important.
Okwo is looking to be great on Saturday, but he is also looking for his teammates to do the same. "I want all the weakside linebackers to grade out at 100% in at least one game before the season is over," Okwo asserted. You cannot ask for much more from a player who pushes himself and his teammates. This kind of determination can only lead to great things for Michael Okwo and the 2005 Stanford Cardinal Football team.
Okwo realizes that game-day opportunities do not come easy. He has decided that maximizing his ability and creativity through dedication will give him the best chance to succeed and make that big game-saving play, and knows his teammates will do the same. "I think everyone just wants to play the perfect snap like me, so I see myself as a guy who will work with his teammates to make sure we get it done," Okwo stated. For now, it's Oregon, and Michael Okwo and the Stanford Cardinal are ready for their opportunity to be great.
This story appears in the gameday program for the Stanford-Oregon football game on October 1, 2005.