Around this time last year, Chima Okoli's name was one few Penn State football fans would have recognized. He wasn't a very hot prospect coming out of high school in 2007 and didn't even really have a defined position on the team for the most part, switching between the offensive and defensive lines.
That all changed when Lou Eliades was injured during the Temple game and Okoli was pressed into duty to replace him on the offensive front. He held down the fort in that game and helped Penn State come back for the win. A week later at Iowa, he was thrown into the fire against the Hawkeyes' stout defensive front and performed admirably as one of the few o-linemen to have a good game that night for the Nittany Lions.
Now, as a senior, he'll be one of the few leaders on a new offensive line that, at this point, appears to be a work in progress.
"I don't know what to tell you. I mean, we don't have the first thing on the offensive line right now," Joe Paterno said at his spring press conference on Friday. "We've got a couple good tackles...Stankiewitch hasn't played much at center. We don't have any depth there. We don't have a good solid first string offensive line yet. That's our first job."
With that kind of uncertainty, Okoli needs to step up and take charge as one of those "good tackles." Though he doesn't have a whole lot of experience himself, he needs to teach his teammates what he's learned and what worked for him last year in replacing Eliades.
Of course, Okoli was hardly a world beater. He still has room for improvement in his own game. Establishing consistency will be a key for him as he had his ups and downs in 2010. However, on an offense that lacked leadership often last season, whatever Okoli can bring in that department during 2011 should help tremendously.
Paterno clearly isn't thrilled with much on his line right now. The opportunity is there for Okoli to step up and make his mark as a fifth-year senior. We'll see if he takes it.
Below is some sound from Okoli on Friday at spring media day. As you can see, he's healthy and happy, unaffected by the so-called "Step Up" curse.