February 3, 2014 at 1:00 am

Tom Markowski

Comfort at Western Michigan beats prestige for Southfield's Chukes Okorafor

Southfield offensive lineman Chukes Okorafor committed to Western Michigan and, despite subsequent scholarship offers from Oklahoma, Missouri and others, Okorafor stuck with his commitment. (Special to Detroit News)

Southfield — Not every high school football player’s dream is to play at a BCS conference school. For some the right fit isn’t dependent upon a school’s success nationally.

To Southfield offensive tackle Chukes Okorafor, his decision on where he would attend college and play football came down to three main factors; family, loyalty and proximity.

Okorafor committed to Western Michigan and despite subsequent scholarship offers from Oklahoma, Missouri and others Okorafor stuck with his commitment.

Southfield coach Tim Conley has a number of players playing in college, including Leviticus Payne at Cincinnati. This senior class at Southfield is loaded. Defensive end Lawrence Marshall committed to Michigan. Lineman Malik McDowell is one of the country’s top recruits who remains uncommitted. Receiver Jordan Billingslea is committed to Western Michigan.

Then there’s Okorafor, listed at No. 20 on The Detroit News Blue Chip list.

“He has so much potential,” Conley said. “He was a punter at Mumford. When he came here, he said that’s where he wanted to play. He was 6-3 and about 240 pounds then. We started (at tackle) as a junior and he did well. He’s 6-6 and 290 pounds now and this season he didn’t have what I would call a first-team, all-area type of year.”

He showed signs of being that type of player. It’s his highlight tape that opened everyone’s eyes.

Two of those eyes belong to former Detroit Lion and Bloomfield Hills assistant coach Lomas Brown. Brown, a first-round draft pick from Florida, saw the film, called coaches at his alma mater and soon after Florida offered a scholarship. Arkansas was next. Maryland and Virginia also offered a scholarship. Ohio State invited Okorafor for an official visit.

Still, Okorafor refused. The only official visit he took was to Kalamazoo.

“I thought Iowa was close to getting him,” Conley said. “(Assistant coach) Norm Parker was here. They recruited him hard. They did a good job with his parents but they couldn’t convince him to take a visit.”

Conley told coaches from Nebraska to not bother recruiting Okorafor, that he had made his decision.

Born in Nigeria, Okorafor will be 17 years old in August. He came to the United States, with his family, just over three years ago. Okorafor is still becoming acclimated with life in the U.S. but he said the move “wasn’t really difficult for me.”

Academically, Okorafor has done well and has a 3.35 grade-point average.

He said he’s not comfortable going to a school he’s not familiar with.

“Those schools (are) pretty far away,” he said. “I really didn’t know any of the coaches and just didn’t have any relationships with them.

“I’m staying with Western Michigan because of the coaches and where the program is going.”

Okorafor’s brother Nnanna is a student at Western Michigan and his presence will lend Okorafor support.

“I told Chukes,” Conley said. “'If you go somewhere else, you have to face the coaches at Western and tell them you’re not going there.' He wasn’t going to do that.”

Patience pays off

Detroit Southeastern was ranked No. 10 in the preseason. Three other teams in the Detroit Public School League were ranked ahead of Southeastern despite the fact it had reached the Class A final for the second time in the last three seasons.

Southeastern stumbled out of the gate and lost its first five but has won its last 10, including victories over those same PSL teams (Detroit Douglass, Detroit Cass Tech and Detroit Pershing) that were ranked ahead of them in the preseason.

Its most impressive victory came at Pershing on Friday. Southeastern led 49-30 early in the third quarter before Pershing, which was ranked No. 1 all season, stormed back to take a 79-78 lead. Eahn Blackwell’s basket gave Southeastern an 80-79 lead with 11 seconds left and his free throw eight seconds later sealed it.

Blackwell, a sophomore, had 16 points and senior Leonard Harper-Baker Jr. had one of his best games, finishing with 25 points, 11 rebounds and six assists.

“For the first 2˝ quarters that was the best Southeastern basketball I’ve seen in the five years I’ve been here,” coach George Ward said. “We beat their full-court pressure, got some layups and got into our half-court offense, and I know they don’t want to play in the half court. Then the ghosts of Spencer Hayward and Steve Smith showed up.

“This could be a history-making team. Who starts the season 0-5, wins 10 in a row and is in the position we’re in? Still, we haven’t won anything yet.

“I knew we’d get better. The backcourt is totally new. Their backups are totally new. I knew we wouldn’t turn the ball over forever.”

Southeastern earned the top seed in its side of the bracket in the PSL playoffs, which begin Thursday. Southeastern gets a bye and will play in Friday’s second round.

New coach, familiar face

Dearborn Divine Child hired alum John Filiatraut as its football coach on Jan. 20, replacing Steve Robb, whose contract was not renewed.

Filiatraut was the head coach at Livonia Churchill but left after the 2012 season, in part to watch his son play football this past season, his senior year, at Divine Child.

“Things kind of crystalize for you when you’re out of it for a year,” Filiatraut said. “What you expect of yourself and what you can offer. That year off you see what makes you happy.

“Divine Child is a terrific place. The people in the building are tremendous. It’s my hope the football program will be brought on par with the campus.”

Filiatraut graduated from Divine Child in 1987, was a big part of the ’85 Class B state championship team and then went on to play at Wisconsin.

Filiatraut guided Churchill to its first playoff victory in 2004 and Churchill was 10-1 in his last season there.

Divine Child was 3-6 last season and has won one playoff games since ’04.

Filiatraut said he’s gathered five members for his staff and is looking for four more to complete it. The team will surely benefit with the return of 6-foot-2, 215-pound quarterback Collin Goslin.

Second-half rush

Oak Park coach Bryant Tipton purposely scheduled the majority of his games after the Martin Luther King holiday. Four of his players became eligible the second semester and two made an impact in their Oak Park debuts on Friday.

Ja’Christian Biles (6-3), a transfer from Southfield-Lathrup, had 17 points as Oak Park (4-3, 4-2 OAA Division 1) blitzed Birmingham Groves, 60-33. Senior Orlando Fikes, a transfer from Detroit Cody, where Tipton coached last season, had 10 points and eight assists.

Junior Marcellus Pittman, another Cody transfer, saw time as a reserve.

“Ja’Christian has tremendous athletic ability,” Tipton said. “He’s showing senior leadership.”

Fikes is a prototypical point guard and Pittman is a defensive standout.

The fourth promises to be the best of the bunch. Sophomore Kelvon Fuller grew two inches since he was a starter last season at Cody. He did not play Friday due to disciplinary reasons.

“He’s a keeper,” Tipton said. “He does everything you need to do as a player.

“At the beginning I thought there might be some trouble having the kids mesh. I think I’m a good judge of character. If I have a bad apple, they won’t last.”

By the numbers

9: Boys PSL titles won by Southeastern

17: Girls PSL titles won by King since 1982

51: Consecutive (Lakeland) conference games won by the Niles Brandywine girls basketball team

Top performance

Brandon Childress, Baldwin

The 6-3 junior guard/forward averages 24 points, 10 rebounds and three assists. He’s had a high game of 35 points and had 20 points including four dunks in Saturday’s 74-34 victory over Big Rapids Crossroads Academy. Childress, who also plays quarterback, has received a scholarship offer from Central Michigan to play basketball and football.


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