13 mai 2024

Daniel Okpoko veut faire honneur à sa famille au camp d’entraînement de ROUGE ET NOIR

A little over two weeks since the Ottawa REDBLACKS front office was elated to see defensive lineman Daniel Okpoko still available when they came up to pick in the second round, the excitement hasn’t waned in the slightest.

On Thursday, Okpoko got his first experience with his new club, taking the field for the first time as a professional football player at REDBLACKS’ rookie camp, alongside other draft choices, and free agent invites. At San Diego State University, the Saskatoon, Saskatchewan native registered 35 tackles, five of which were tackles for a loss, in his 37 games of experience across five seasons.

Just a few days into the training camp process, Okpoko has come as advertised, says REDBLACKS’ Head Coach Bob Dyce.

“He’s certainly a specimen,” he explained. “We know he’s an aggressive player on the line of scrimmage, and he looks to be in very good shape. We’re excited to see his progress as camp continues.”

Having not stepped on the field for much other than solo workouts in the past five months, Okpoko was able to set aside all the nerves that typically come with a new environment, and settle into a rhythm in camp, relishing the opportunity to play football once again.

“It’s always great to be able to play football and be out there with the guys,” Okpoko said. “It’s a great environment, and it was exciting to be out there.”

Growing up in Saskatchewan, Okpoko fell in love with football thanks to the Roughriders, often attending games with friends and family. Despite attending an American school, his love for the Canadian game never faded.

On CFL Draft night, Okpoko and his family surrounded the television, waiting eagerly to hear his name called. Excitedly, General Manager Shawn Burke made the call, only to be greeted by the screams of the six-foot-five, 275-pounder’s family.

It’s because of them that Okpoko truly found his love for football, and he continues this journey.

“You can’t ask for anything better,” Okpoko said. “Ever since high school, they have been pushing me to want to be the best, and I want to go out there and dominate. They are the reason I play this game, and seeing the love they give me makes it more fun knowing they are watching and supporting me.”

Among his family members, his talents are already known, but walking into a new locker room, and meeting his new teammates means that once again, Okpoko needs to prove himself.

Organization-wide, the belief that he could become a dominant interior lineman in the CFL exists, but for the time being, Okpoko is taking things one step at a time, hoping to earn his way onto the roster, and make an impact whenever he hears his number called.

“I think they see the versatility I bring to the table,” Okpoko said. “I can play anywhere. I can help out on special teams. I’m an explosive and dynamic player, and I can do whatever is needed [of me].”

His approach helped eliminate some of the pressure of being the highest pick in the 2024 draft class at REDBLACKS Rookie Camp.

Expectations may not be set as high as starting games right away for any of the rookies, but Dyce is stressing that there is no glass ceiling holding anyone back. If Okpoko earns playing time, he will get it.

“We’re hoping to get surprised,” Dyce said. “The better they are, and the more they can push the veterans, the better we’re going to be [as a team].”

Dyce’s declaration has sent shockwaves of optimism around TD Place Stadium, but also has players excited for those around them. Okpoko has been impressed by the talent on the field thus far, and is eager to see what they can accomplish over the rest of main camp, and the preseason.

“Look at the group of guys who got drafted this year,” Okpoko said. “It’s a really good group of guys, and when you see good players, you have to acknowledge that. I feel like this rookie group could really do some damage this year.”