Development. It's a word that is almost synonymous with Texas Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong, but if there's a word that Strong chooses to employ more than development, it's unbelievable as his go-to superlative. On National Signing Day 2016, Strong used a scant 21 words when discussing Lewisville offensive lineman Denzel Okafor, but included both of those favorites in that stretch.
"If you look at Denzel and just see how much he has developed at Lewisville High School," Strong said. "He's got unbelievable talent."
However, that's not to say that the staff waited to offer the 6'4, 295-pounder until the last minute like several other members of the 2016 signing class -- Okafor picked up his offer from the 'Horns in late April during the evaluation period and then committed in the middle of November after an unofficial visit for the Kansas game after a late surge by Texas past TCU.
Strong's vision won him over.
"No offense to Gary Patterson, but Coach Strong is a humble guy, and his visions are clear," Okafor told Horns247. "People aren't giving him time, but he's working on it. Coach Patterson is a cool guy, but Coach Strong is a guy I can be comfortable with in the next four or five years. He's a really good coach."
Keep in mind that TCU held a slight edge at times over Texas and destroyed the Longhorns on the field in Fort Worth before Okafor made his decision. Yet, Strong was still able to convince him that Austin is a better place to be -- no easy task.
When former offensive line coach Joe Wickline originally extended that offer, Okafor was a middling three-star prospect ranked as the No. 66 offensive guard in the country. By the time he signed, the 247Sports Composite rankings had him as the 13th-best player at his position, a massive leap.
Scipio Tex compared him to Connor Williams with his physical traits, but former Texas standout Trey Hopkins seems like a more apt comparison because it's possible that Okafor's wingspan will allow the high school left tackle to play every position on the line -- he appears to have the reach of someone 6'8 or taller. From physical attributes like athleticism and lateral agility to mental traits like tenacity, Okafor is impressive in both areas of the game.
Texas started a truly plodding guard last year in Sedrick Flowers and Okafor couldn't look more different in space -- he can re-direct and looks fluid and natural in his movements working to the second level. When he plays with good pad level, which isn't all the time, he flashes ideal flexibility in sinking his hips.
However, despite the fact Okafor looks the part physically with a wingspan that is both long and remarkably well developed, he doesn't have the natural punch of a prospect like DeSoto's Edward Ingram in the 2017 class, but technique work shooting his hands should help him grow in that area in college. Rolling out of his hips better will also contribute to his growth as a player.
He also improved as a senior, as evidenced by his movement in the rankings as a senior and aided by a strong showing at the Semper Fi All-American game.With a relatively lean frame, Okafor has the potential to add the right type of mass as he increases in strength in college.
Depth on the interior offensive line is poor enough at the moment that the coaches made the decision to move sophomore Jake McMillon from defensive tackle to offensive guard right before the Orange and White game, despite the fact that move left only three scholarship players at the position.
Right now, none of the back ups have laid claim to the No. 2 spots behind the starters, so there's some serious potential for Okafor to come in and make an early impact, just like Patrick Vahe did as a starter last year, as long as Okafor can refine his technique enough to make up for the lack of an elite natural punch. Even if that takes some time, he may still be good enough on arrival to crack the rotation.
Given the need at the position and Okafor's trajectory since last spring, he's a player who should see action early and often for the 'Horns as offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert attempts to limit his starters from playing 80 snaps per game. If he can come close to having a career like that of Hopkins, he will prove himself an excellent take indeed.
Here's betting that happens.