COPPELL, Texas — Watching Jeffrey Okudah compete in footwork drills and hold his own in one-on-one matchups last Sunday at The Opening Dallas regional may have been somewhat perplexing to some. Slightly anomalous, even.
Ranked as the nation's No. 1 safety and measuring at 6'1" and 190 pounds, Okudah is expected by some to look and play more like a safety or an outside linebacker—and less like a cornerback. After all, Okudah played rover as a sophomore in high school, lining up at both safety and outside linebacker.
But if you know Okudah, you'll know that transitioning into a true jack-of-all-trades defender is and has remained a high priority. It's the goal of the Grand Prairie, Texas, standout to not only be considered among the best athletes of the 2017 class but also as a master of multiple positions.
"I look at what Jalen Ramsey does," Okudah said, referring to the Florida State star who's expected to be a top-five pick in the upcoming NFL draft. "He set the tone for playing all three positions [cornerback, safety and nickelback] at a high level, and it's about to pay off for him when he'll be drafted in the top three or four picks."
As impressive as Okudah is on the football field, one question keeps him an enigma in college football recruiting: How often does the top-ranked player at a position prefer to play a different position at the next level?
Comfort level at cornerback
Ask Okudah about his college plans, and he envisions himself being put on an island rather than surveying the entire defensive backfield. He spent more time at cornerback as a junior for South Grand Prairie High School, finishing the season with 46 tackles and four pass deflections, according to the Dallas Morning News.
"Right now, I'm more comfortable at cornerback," he said. "I can play cornerback, safety or nickel [back], but in one-on-one matchups, if you're up against their best guy, and you stay in front of him to where he can't make any plays the whole game, what's a better feeling than that?"
It's an attitude instilled in Okudah with the help of Clay Mack, his skills trainer and one of the most respected names in defensive back training in the greater Dallas area. Mack first begin training Okudah three years ago, and he's watched him transform from an athlete with linebacker promise into an all-around defender who can play any skill position on the field.
"I tell people all the time: I don't train safeties or corners. I train DBs," Mack said. "And he bought in from day one.
"I'm really proud of seeing his corner skills. With his size, you naturally want to see him as safety, but I challenged him. I told him I wanted him to be known as a flex guy."
Okudah humbly accepted the challenge of improving his speed, endurance and overall quick-twitch ability with his feet and hips. He also has more confidence now than he did as a sophomore. There isn't a position at which he believes he can't excel.
With the help of the training, Okudah has emerged into one of the nation's premier defensive backs. Credit some of that to Okudah's training with and learning from studs who came before him. Okudah trained with athletes like LSU's secondary duo of Jamal Adams and Ed Paris as well as Texas safety Jason Hall.
"He saw what they did," Mack said. "And look at where they are now."
Damon Sayles @DamonSayles
DBs Verone McKinley (@vmckinley3) & Jeff Okudah (@TheJeffOkudah) show why they're heavily recruited DBs. #TheOpening https://t.co/P9Jr4sI7CR3/13/2016, 6:01:47 PM
And now, it's Okudah's turn to be a leader. His leadership showed at The Opening Dallas regional, where he was first in line for multiple drills and ultimately earned an invitation to The Opening finals this summer in Beaverton, Oregon.
"It all started with him coming to camps as a sophomore just trying to make a name for himself," said Eugene Jackson, the head defensive backs coach at The Opening regional competitions. "The last two years, he's made a buzz; he's held his own.
"He's one of those who covers from center field to the hash to the sidelines very fast. He also covers well in the slot. He's listed as a safety, but most safeties don't feel comfortable like he does."
Okudah wants to play college football at a place where he believes "iron sharpens iron." He said of his 30-plus offers, Ohio State holds an early edge, but there's still plenty of time for him to make a final decision.
"Guarding some of the top receivers in the country every day in practice," he said, "I know that when I line up against another team, it'll be like a walk in the park."
Okudah said he's looking into unofficial visits to Ohio State, Michigan and LSU with his family soon. Other schools high on his recruiting list including Alabama, Stanford, Texas and Texas A&M.
Wherever he ends up, Okudah wants to end up finding success on and off the football field. He currently has a 3.4 core grade-point average and has an interest in business and marketing. He ultimately wants to earn an MBA.
Don't expect Okudah to struggle on or off the field wherever he goes. He has an intense work ethic that Mack said is infectious to teammates in the present and will be in the future.
Brice Jones @Brice_Jones
SGP DB Jeffrey Okudah showing off some smooth footwork https://t.co/sTynXeGG9k3/13/2016, 6:16:35 PM
"He just has that 'it' factor about him," Mack said. "He told me how he doesn't understand how some guys get offers and then stop working. That should be the time where you'd want to work even harder. I had to realize I was talking to a 17-year-old kid sounding so mature. Guys like that, you want to bend over backwards to help."
Okudah said a decision could come sometime before the start of his senior season but added that he isn't opposed to waiting until national signing day to publicly announce his college plans.
Look for him to get on the field early in his college career—whether it's at cornerback, safety, nickelback or outside linebacker. He's been trained for this.
"He's what colleges are looking for," Jackson said. "He's going to be exciting to watch, maybe even on Sundays."
Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles
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