The first positive COVID case was identified at the University of Texas campus on March 13, 2020.
Campus shut down and the spring football season for the Texas Longhorns was over before it began.
So, like the rest of his teammates, freshman wide receiver Troy Omeire went back home, two and half hours east to Houston for Omeire, to his mother’s house.
Omeire is, of course, the talented four-star wide receiver prospect from Austin High School in Sugar Land, just southwest of Houston.
Even though they lived in the same home, Omeire communicated with his mother, Adaobi Turner, only through Facetime through the first several weeks of the pandemic.
Turner and Omeire had to socially distance.
Turner works as a clinical care nurse at a Houston area hospital, volunteering to work in the highly infectious disease unit at the beginning of the pandemic. “He actually encouraged me,” said Turner of her son. “He pep talked me, ‘Mom, you’re trained to do this.’”
There were some days where Turner didn’t even see Troy as a precaution. “I didn’t want to bring something back home.”
The spring and summer months went by.
Instead of spring practices, Omeire and his teammates settled for Zoom meetings with position coaches. To stay in shape, Troy returned to his old stomping grounds in Austin High’s weight room and continued to work with Houston celebrity trainer Justin Allen, who had worked with Omeire since his junior year of high school.
So Omeire would study, train, and prepare for his first collegiate football season that wasn’t even certain to happen.
Omeire had only been on campus for a couple of months at the time of UT’s shutdown, having graduated early from Austin High School in December 2019 in order to start classes and join the Longhorns program the following January.
It was a journey that started with Troy’s first team, the Panthers, when he was just seven or eight years old. Troy had been playing with a neighbor when the neighbor’s father noticed Troy catching every ball thrown to him. The father happened to be a Panthers football coach and recommended to Troy’s father that Troy join the team. “I didn’t want him to play any sports, him being my only son,” said Turner. “I didn’t want him to get hurt.”
But Omeire did join the team and eventually became a standout wide receiver and a coveted recruit.
While a four-star prospect according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, Omeire was just a three-star recruit and the 103rd-ranked wide receiver in the 2020 class according to 247Sports. “He was the best receiver in the class,” said Allen. “He was the most ready to play college football.”
Omeire earned All-District honors as a sophomore, junior, and senior at Austin High in one of the most competitive high school football districts in the country. As a senior in 2019, Omeire shared All-District honors with some notable names in college football circles — Orange Bowl breakout running back Devon Achane (Fort Bend Marshall), Texas A&M running back LJ Johnson (Cy-Fair), TCU’s Zach Evans (North Shore) and Penn State’s freshman phenom Parker Washington (Fort Bend Travis). Omeire added an MVP award for Rival’s 2019 Houston camp.
Troy’s ranking didn’t scare off college football’s elite.
He received offers from Texas A&M, Alabama, Oklahoma, Georgia, LSU ,and about 20 other blue-blood schools and Power 5 programs, and for good reason — Omeire is a rare size/speed specimen.
Texas now lists him at 6’3, 230 pounds. As a high school senior in 2019, he posted a 4.69 forty-yard dash, a 4.37 shuttle, and a 32.5 inch vertical jump, while, at that time, weighing 217 pounds. Graduating early prevented Omeire from competing in the state track championships in the 200-meter dash.
Omeire also has tremendous body control for a player his size — it’s something he’s focused on in his training with Allen.
He positions himself to shield a defender, or defenders, from the ball while simultaneously making late and quick adjustments to bring in the catch. He’s able to plant, cut, and adjust in mid air, often with defenders draped around his waist and feet.
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Omeire has an impressive ability for his size to decelerate and re-accelerate quickly, back top speed on double moves, another focus of his training with Allen. “That’s just body control, foot placement. If you can do what [slot receivers] do, then you don’t have to come off the field.”
Then there’s his hands.
Another circus catch from the newcomer pic.twitter.com/AGDv8ia1BN— Will Baizer (@WillBaizer) August 16, 2020
When asked when he first knew that Troy was different, his high school coach Mike Arogbonlo described the second practice rep that Troy had taken after Arogbonlo was hired as Austin High’s head coach in June 2019.
“Somebody throws him the ball and — he’s right-handed — and he catches it one handed with his [left] hand... with a DB on his right hip,” explained Arogbonlo. “I looked at our coaches and said ‘Wow, that kid has a chance to play on Sundays.’”
The camp standout
The Longhorns returned to the practice field for the first time on Friday, August 7, 2020. Players donned full face shields under their facemasks pursuant to COVID protocols, but there was still uncertainty.
The makeshift Big 12 schedule had not been set and it wasn’t clear that other Power 5 conferences would play.
But there was a glimpse of Omeire’s promise — he was starting to turn heads. In the first full week of camp, he was already taking practice reps with the first team as Omeire’s catch radius was proving to be an asset for quarterback Sam Ehlinger.
He was projected to push or surpass junior Brennan Eagles for the X receiver position on the depth chart. But like his spring camp, Omeire’s fall season was over before it really began.
Aug. 15 was the first Texas scrimmage and Omeire went down with a non-contact injury to his right knee. He even attempted to resume play. He couldn’t.
At first, the injury was described as just a tweak, but an MRI later confirmed a right ACL tear.
The Forty Acres faithful would have to wait to realize the promise of Sugar Land’s son.
Sugar Land promise
Like a chorus, those in Omeire’s inner circle sing praises of his football intellect, his work ethic, and his passion for the game.
“His greatest strength is not even his size [or] his speed,” said Arogbonlo, “it’s actually his love for the game and his competitiveness.”
“Troy just loves football. That’s all he wants to do,” said Turner. “I wanted him to be an engineer, but he chose a different path.”
Now, Omeire will have to settle for practicing patience through a second straight spring. He is not expected to participate in team drills as he recovers from the torn ACL.
Still, Allen believes Troy is going to be ready to go come fall. “He’s already confident. He can’t wait to show the world.”
Turner raised Troy on her own.
“The energy and connection they have is amazing,” said Allen. “I take my hat off to his mom... She raised an amazing young man who just happens to be great at football.”
Troy and mom supported and encouraged each other as Omeire grew up — Omeire with his mother’s demanding career in nursing and Turner with her son’s dedication to football.
“He’s a great listener. He has emotional intelligence,” said Turner.
The pandemic was a blessing in disguise for Turner and Omeire. “Whenever he’s around, it’s always a good day.”
Arogbonlo perhaps said it best. “We’re excited. We’re excited about the future.”
Longhorn faithful share the sentiment.
Felix Sharpe is a civil litigator in Louisville, Kentucky. He enjoys football and storytelling. He loves charcoal grilling during a snowstorm. His work has appeared in the Detroit Free Press. He writes for Campus2Canton.com. Contact him @fhsharpe@gmail and follow him on Twitter at @sharpereview.