(Photo courtesy of Steven Barrera)
Golden Valley High School

Finding the right place — Golden Valley alumnus’ transition into college football

Golden Valley alumnus Toby Okunna was a star in many sports. He played basketball, ran the 100m in track and participated in shot put all four years. However, the sport that would provide the most for him was football. Okunna started playing football his junior year of high school and was a natural star.

”He was a very hard worker both on the field and in the weight room,” his high school coach, Mike Edwards said.

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(Photo courtesy of Steven Barrera)

Besides his physical abilities he was also an AP student in several subjects.

“He works very hard on the field and just as hard as he did in the classroom,” Head Coach Dan Kelley said.

Which was a huge contributor to why he had many D2 and D3 colleges like Western New Mexico and Cal Lutheran who showed interest in the up and coming star player.  

By his senior year, he would receive additional offers from Fresno State University, Azusa Pacific University and many other schools. Okunna did not know a lot about the recruiting process so he just went with the first school that gave him a full ride scholarship. That school was Western New Mexico University.

However, before he booked his ticket to Silver City, College of the Canyons head coach Ted Iacenda had a lengthy conversation with Okunna about the recruiting process. At the end of the conversation Okunna would decide to go the junior college route and continue his career as a student athlete at College of the Canyons.

“It was a stressful transition into college athletics mainly because I decided to leave a scholarship at Western New Mexico University. However I think it was the right decision because it gave me the chance to grow as a player and learn more about college football while getting exposure to other schools,” Okunna said.

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(Photo courtesy of Steven Barrera)

He played at COC in fall 2015 and he performed so well that he received offers from the University of Hawaii and Fresno State University. In his second season at College of the Canyons he lost most of his offers after breaking his ankle in the third game of the 2016 season.

Fortunately, Okunna received an offer from the University of San Diego which is where he would transfer and major in computer science. He would come in playing outside linebacker but soon be switched to defensive end.

Okunna explained some of his pros and cons about the position switch, some pros being that at defensive end he has less to worry about and just has to play hard. While on the other hand the team has an abundance of talent at the position and all are worthy of the starting position.

The defensive end coach and former San Diego Chargers player Jacques Cesaire always has the players competing for a starting position and it is just as hard to stay a starter than it is to become one.

Although it is difficult Okunna has stayed the starting defensive end and was able to play in multiple playoff games. One of the highlights was being able to go against North Dakota State University in the Fargodome. NDSU has won 33 Conference Championships, and only three losing seasons since 1964. They have won six out of the last 7 FCS National Championships, tied with Georgia Southern for the most in FCS history.

North Dakota State has won more games than any other FCS school founded after 1876. However the biggest accomplishment was helping the team gain their seventh conference championship in eight years. Even with all of his talent this would be Okunna’s last season playing football so he could pursue a career in software engineering. With his hard work ethic and persistence in the class Okunna will continue to strive in whatever he does.

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(Photo courtesy of Steven Barrera)

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