Some men are gifted with unnatural abilities. Size, strength, speed, athleticism, intelligence, looks, charm... we're all aware of those who are more #blessed than we. The best athletes in the world take those gifts, hone them into sharpened skills and proceed to dominate the competition. Others coast by on pure talent and reach a certain level before topping out. Still others absolutely waste their gifts due to poor decision making, laziness or any other number of issues that keep them from reaching the highest heights.
Chidi Valentine-Okeke is one of such men. Born with prototypical size and natural athletic tools. Big men who move more like little men, errr, medium-sized men, simply present an unfair advantage in the game of football. Valentine-Okeke then, is faced with a choice, either to take his natural gifts and turn them into skills, or simply let them flounder in a state of apathy.
Valentine-Okeke comes with one of the more interesting background stories of any prospect you'll find. The Nigerian-born tackle didn't arrive in the United States until the summer of 2013. That fall he played his first season of football as a 16-year old Junior at Champagnat-Catholic in Hialeah, FL. Until that point he had only played soccer and basketball, despite his ready-made football frame. You may remember that as where former LSU defensive tackle Travonte Valentine also prepped. The two, in fact, would square off against one another in practice. Their coach remarked that no other players on the team were so emboldened to take on the massive DT, but Valentine-Okeke didn't back down.
After spending a year at Champagnat-Catholic, Valentine-Okeke moved down to Ludowici, Georgia to attend Faith Christian Academy for his Senior season. Not a lot is known about why the move was made, and I'm not one to speculate about such situations. Valentine-Okeke quickly began to draw big-time recruiting attention. It's easy to see why, as 6'6", 300 pound behemoths with natural athletic ability don't grow on trees. Whatever skills Valentine-Okeke lacked, every coaching staff in America thought they could overcome.
His recruitment cycle carried about pretty quietly. Louisville was the first program to offer him, back in May 2014. This shortly after he took a pair of visits to FSU and then one to Miami. Then West Virginia offered. Then Florida State. Then Clemson and South Carolina. Florida and Alabama. Miami, Auburn and Georgia. Auburn and Georgia were considered heavy favorites with Alabama not far behind. He took multiple visits to each place throughout the fall. By December, he lined up his visits. Georgia, Auburn, Bama, Ole Miss and... LSU.
LSU stuck out like a long shot. Yet quietly the staff was at work. Jeff Grimes stayed on Valentine-Okeke, throughout his move from Champgnat-Catholic to Faith Christian Academy. He kept the lines of communication open, along with Valentine, who developed a friendship with Valentine-Okeke during their time together at Champagnat-Catholic. They pushed and pushed for Valentine-Okeke to take an official visit. It worked.
LSU got the last shot at Valentine-Okeke, but he showed up sans family, leaving many to believe it a longshot he would actually pick the Tigers. Coming out of the visit, things remained quiet. Most thought he was down to Georgia or Auburn with the rest on the outside looking in. 13 days later, on January 29th, he shocked the recruiting world by committing to LSU. Even his high school coach was shocked. Valentine-Okeke followed up on his verbal commitment by signing his letter of intent days later. The strong impression in the final weeks proved enough to earn his signature.
Valentine-Okeke is a composite 4-star OT, with a .9507 rating. He was elected to the U.S. Army All-American Game.
100 - 98 = Five-star prospect. One of the top 30 players in the nation. This player has excellent pro-potential and should emerge as one of the best in the country before the end of his career.
97 - 90 = Four-star prospect. One of the top 300 players in the nation. This prospect will be an impact-player for his college team. He is an All-American candidate who displays pro-potential.
89 - 80 = Three-star prospect. One of the top 10% players in the nation. This player will develop into a reliable starter for his college team and is among the best players in his region of the country.
79 - below = Two-star prospect. This player makes up the bulk of Division I rosters. He may have little pro-potential, but is likely to become a role player for his respective school.
Tale of the Tape
Short Shuttle: 4.91
Vertical Jump: 24.3
That Powerball toss would have landed him in the top 10 in that event at the Opening. The numbers aren't anything sensational, so I'm curious how they tabulated his SPARQ. His short shuttle and vertical are particularly poor. That said, I can't imagine he's done much training for these type of tests. He's barely played football, much less spent his life running 40s and doing vertical leaps. I'm not overly concerned with these numbers due to the fact that multiple different writers have denoted how athletic he looks in person and I'm not sure they carry much meaning for a prospect so green.
There is no tape. At least none that I can find. The best I can do is this Vine:
Pretty clear he's the greatest tackle of all-time. That's a 4-star, top 100 defensive end who is going to Florida State, who he pretty easily handles.
Really, what you can see is that he's just naturally big and can move. He's not clumsy and goofy, and can move around around with relative ease. If you want a list of strengths and weaknesses:
Strengths: Size, Athleticism
Weaknesses: Raw, Raw, Raw
This kid has just about every natural ability you could want from a football player. He's long, he's thick without being super soft and out of shape. He's just a big, naturally athletic kid. Yet, he has a ton to learn on the field. This is a big piece of moldable clay that Grimes has to refine into a blocking machine. But there's plenty to work with here.
I really think the sky is the limit here. There's a couple major obstacles. Firstly, he needs to get his academics in order and qualify. There's ongoing concern that he may not qualify. Miles stated recently he was cleared to report by the NCAA. Yet, as we saw with Travonte Valentine, he's not cleared every hurdle just yet. Beyond clearing that, he'll need to work to stay academically eligible. So, first order of business is take care of business in the classroom young fella.
The second thing will be dedicating himself to learning the game. I know nothing of his work ethic and focus. His HS says he's a great kid and a hard worker. Also that he's the quickest learner he's ever met in his life. That all is very encouraging.
Cross those two bridges, and Valentine-Okeke could be one of the very best OL in LSU history. All the physical tools are in place. This is a kid many consider a 5-star talent despite such little available film. You're talking about a guy who is basically coasting off camp performances. For a number of evaluators to think this highly of him, that speaks only to his potential.
High End: All-American, future top 10 drop pick.
Low End: Never gets his grades in order and leaves LSU.
Realistic: I think he's a multi-year starter. This guy's potential is sky high.