LARAMIE – In 27 years as a college football coach, Mike Grant has heard it a lot.
A player comes to him and says he is going to work hard and be the kind of player the coaches expect.
Add John Okwoli to that list. The University of Wyoming senior wide receiver approached Grant at the start of winter conditioning in January.
“He said there was going to be no more belly-aching or anything like that, and that he was going to bust his butt and work hard,” said Grant, who enters his fourth season as UW’s wide receivers coach.
“I have seen an amazing change in him, and I think the rest of the coaches have, too. We’re going to rely on (Okwoli) to help us pursue our goals.”
Okwoli enters his fourth season with UW, but in 38 games the 6-foot-2, 210-pounder has only 15 catches for 168 yards and one touchdowns. Last season, he had only three catches for 31 yards.
Grant said Okwoli wasn’t mad over playing time, nor did he show any disrespect to him or his teammates the last three years.
However, injuries have played a factor.
Okwoli tore the ACL and meniscus in a knee late in the 2017 season that prevented him from playing in UW’s victory over Central Michigan in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. He missed the spring of 2018, and early in fall camp that year he broke his hand.
“Those injuries aren’t excuses. I didn’t perform at the expected level before I got hurt,” Okwoli said. “That put me in a bad mindset. I doubted myself. I was thinking I’m not good enough anymore.
“Over winter break I was home and talked it out with my family. That gave me some time to think about what I can do to change my mindset, how I work and the perception everybody has of me.”
So far, that perception has changed.
“I admire him coming to me, and watching him now he has never wavered from the moment we had that conversation,” Grant said. “He has been more consistent throughout practice with everything he does.”
UW senior wide receiver Austin Conway has noticed a difference in Okwoli early in fall camp.
“(Okwoli) is making plays all over the field,” he said. “John looks great body-wise. You can work on your body and everything, but you have to come out and make plays, and that’s what John has done. John is just working really hard, that’s all it is.”
Grant described Okwoli as a “vital cog” in UW’s receiving group this season. The Cowboys averaged only 131.3 passing yards per game last season, and their leading receiver in terms of catches – Conway – had 32. Conway and senior Raghib Ismail Jr., are the only two returning wide receivers who had more than 200 receiving yards in 2018.
“(Okwoli) can be a utility guy,” Grant said. “There are some guys better off just going deep or catching little stuff. John is a guy who can get inside and be physical with blocking, but has the speed to go deep. He is an all-around guy, and that is a compliment.
“I feel comfortable putting him anywhere and getting the job done because he is showing that consistency in practice.”
Added Okwoli: “I’m just focused on putting my head down and keep working every day. I have to keep that same mindset, and it takes a certain level of thinking and mental toughness to be able to do that.”
Wednesday’s practice was UW’s first in full pads during fall camp.
The team did a blitz period and sixth-year coach Craig Bohl said the defense “showed great energy and was very disruptive.”
Bohl also said junior defensive tackle Ravontae Holt “was explosive” during that period and continues to have a good camp.
Bohl said sophomore guard Eric Abojei didn’t finish practice because of knee soreness. Abojei injured his knee late during the spring.
Redshirt freshman defensive tackle Mario Mora hyper-extended his back Tuesday, but practiced Wednesday.
“He has got a high pain tolerance,” Bohl said.
The Cowboys return to practice at 10 a.m. today in War Memorial Stadium.