Chaparral senior Ekom Udofia is big.
How big, you ask?
Well, in a literal sense, pretty darn massive.
The soft-spoken beast of a defensive tackle is 6-foot-2 and 300 pounds.
He was so big growing up that he wasn’t allowed to play Pop Warner because he was too heavy.
Udofia is also about as big as they come on the college football recruiting scene. With scholarship offers from most of the nation’s top football schools, Udofia highlights what is generally considered a thin crop of East Valley recruits that includes Highland lineman Richard Tuitu’u, Paradise Valley fullback Matt Clapp and Hamilton wide receiver Mekell Wesley.
Beyond those four, many of the East Valley’s top players are still sending out senior game tapes and waiting to hear back from major colleges.
"After the top few guys, it’s kind of weak," said Andrew Freidman, Southwest Recruiting Editor for theinsiders.com. "You’ve got some strong guys out there at the top, but after that it drops off."
Udofia, who is ranked among the top five defensive tackles by most major recruiting services, is a big reason for this year’s class being so top-heavy.
A starter since his sophomore season, Udofia is comparable in size, skill and strength to former Saguaro linemen Kyle Caldwell, who is now at Arizona State, and Loren Howard, now at Northwestern.
"I think if you wanted to compare him to somebody, he has the capability to play like Caldwell or Howard," Chaparral coach Ron Estabrook said. "He’s not to that level now, but he has those kinds of tools."
Those tools had the attention of college recruiters long before this season began.
Midway through the summer, Udofia had already received more than 25 scholarship offers. The list of suitors was so daunting that smaller programs backed off rather than waste their time doing battle with college football’s heavy hitters.
Udofia has since trimmed his list of potential schools to the six that he will visit over the next two months. He will make an unofficial visit to Arizona this weekend, followed by official visits to Stanford (Sept. 24), USC (Oct. 8), Oklahoma (Oct. 22), Oklahoma State (Oct. 29) and Miami (Dec. 3).
In between recruiting trips, Udofia will be focused on maintaining his 4.2 grade point average and ravaging opposing offenses.
"I try to be real physical and aggressive on the line," Udofia said. "I’ve really tried to focus in on coming hard off the ball, focusing in on that snap or on the twitch of a leg. I’m real good with my hands so I can get inside somebody and then with my strength once I’m inside I can start working them back."
Although Chaparral has won just once in its first three games, Udofia has been a monster as the anchor of a defensive line that has proven to be the team’s greatest strength.
Through three games, Udofia has 22 solo tackles, five assists and two sacks. His biggest moment so far came just before halftime of the Firebirds’ 17-7 road loss to top-ranked Tucson Sunnyside when he keyed a goal-line stand that kept Chaparral within four points heading into the locker room.
Udofia typically lines up directly over the center with a defensive lineman on each side of him covering up the opposing team’s guards. The alignment hinders an offense’s ability to double team the nose guard and results in some awfully lopsided, one-on-one meetings between Udofia and overmatched centers.
"The way they line up their defense it’s hard to do a lot of things," said Peoria Centennial coach Richard Taylor, whose team beat Chaparral 21-14 last week. "They have the center and the two guards covered . . . so you have to scheme a lot if you want to get two bodies on him."
With Udofia dominating the middle of the line, Chaparral’s opponents have gained just 277 rushing yards on 95 attempts. That’s an average of 2.9 yards per carry, not bad considering that Chaparral has faced Arizona-bound running backs Xavier Smith of Sunnyside and Terry Longbons of Centennial in the last two weeks.
"There’s no doubt (his presence) allows us to do a lot of things," Estabrook said. "We’ll put him on the nose and that doesn’t allow teams to go up the middle. They have to run somewhere else — go outside or go off tackle. Our speed is still pretty good, so when they go outside (our linebackers and safeties) are able to fly to the ball."
Udofia, whose parents moved to America from Nigeria to go to college, is the last in a line of exceptional Chaparral student-athletes.
Aniebiet Udofia holds the Scottsdale district record in the 100-meter dash and ran track for one season at Stanford. She recently graduated with a double major in biology and economics.
Udeme Udofia started on the offensive line for Chaparral’s 2002 state championship team and is currently playing football at Stanford.
The family matriarch, Queensley Udofia, said her children’s successes have been as much a result of hard work as natural ability.
"(Our parents) taught us to always appreciate hard work, so that’s what we’ve tried to do with the children," she said. "We told them everything you do — even if you mop the floor — you do it the best you can do it."
Her son will no doubt continue to do it the best he can, to the delight of college coaches and the dismay of local offensive coordinators.
"I think if you wanted to compare him to somebody, he has the capability to play like (Kyle) Caldwell or (Loren) Howard. He’s not to that level now, but he has those kinds of tools."