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Trieu: Future Spartan Alex Okelo an 'impact guy' in just one season of high school football

Allen Trieu
Special to The Detroit News

Nashville Pearl-Cohn head coach Tony Brunetti has known Alex Okelo for a long time, but has only gotten to coach him for a short period of time.

Okelo, a 6-foot-6, 217-pound defensive end, recently gave a verbal commitment to Michigan State over offers from 11 other schools. Those offers came after he played his first season of high school football as a junior.

Alex Okelo

“He played some youth football early, but it wasn’t like he played his whole life,” Brunetti said. “He played middle school ball, I think in 7th grade, but his mama wouldn’t let him play in high school.”

Brunetti said he “just stayed on him” every chance he had to see him in the hallways because he knew Okelo had something special. He had the size and athleticism. Brunetti has coached many players over the years who went on to play college football and he knew he had another one here if he could get him to come out.

“I was pushing college from the minute I started talking to him,” Brunetti said. “I told him, ‘In basketball, you’re average height, but in football, you’re dime height. You’re fast and strong, you’re a dime.’”

More: Big Ten's goal: January start for football, with hopes for full fall 2021 schedule

Okelo came out late, but recorded seven sacks as a junior.

“He caught on fast and learned fast,” Brunetti said. “He’s an aggressive kid and came in and earned a spot. It was right away (that colleges noticed). He was an impact guy on the field and he had the size and speed and he was doing things like a kid who had been playing three or four years technique wise.”

In January, in-state Tennessee offered a scholarship, Okelo’s first college offer. Louisville, Florida State, Indiana, Nebraska, North Carolina and more followed. Michigan State did not offer until mid-June. Despite the later start, the distance and not being able to get Okelo on campus due to COVID-19, the Spartan staff stayed in constant communication and through that, won his and his family’s trust.

“COVID hurt because he wasn’t able to visit the school, but he talked to the staff and did virtual tours,” Brunetti said. “His parents did the virtual tours and they showed him a lot of love. They said they loved how he could come in and grow and be in their system, they love dual-sport athletes. Then, it’s a good school academically, which was important for his parents, they’re big on that.”

Upside is a word that gets used a lot in recruiting, but it is not a cliché with Okelo given how quickly he acclimated himself in his return to the gridiron last season and his physical tools. He is also a young senior. He will graduate at 17 and will not turn 18 until next October.

“He’s going to mature more and more but he has that drive to be successful,” Brunetti said. “His frame can hold another 50 pounds and he will still be able to run – like run, run. He has a chance to be special and I think he wants to prove to a lot of people he can play this game at a high level.”

Away from football, Brunetti describes Okelo as always smiling, personable, well-liked by faculty and students alike.

Seeing where the story has gone and where it can still go, it was certainly worth the effort it took to get him back in a helmet.

“His mom sent me a text the other day,” Brunetti said. “It said something like, ‘From 7th grade, you never gave up on him, even for as many times as I told you no. From the bottom of my heart we appreciate you helping him get a free education.’”

Pearl-Cohn was scheduled to begin its season this week, but that has been delayed until Sept. 11.

Spartans offer 2022 quarterback

Greenwood (Ind.) Center Grove quarterback Tayven Jackson was offered by Michigan State.

Jackson is a 6-foot-5, 185-pound prospect who also holds offers from Cincinnati, Indiana and Central Michigan.

He passed for 1,215 yards and nine touchdowns while leading his team to the state title game as a sophomore.

MSU in first on massive OL

Michigan State offered a scholarship to Spring Branch (Texas) Smithson Valley offensive tackle Colton Thomasson, a 6-foot-7, 330-pound recruit just starting his sophomore year.

The Spartans are his first scholarship offer.

Texas A&M has also been recruiting him early. Thomasson saw varsity time at guard his freshman season.

More information

Alex Okelo profile 

Tayven Jackson profile

Colton Thomasson profile 

Allen Trieu covers Midwest football recruiting for 247Sports. He has been featured on the Big Ten Network on its annual Signing Day Show. His Michigan and Michigan State recruiting columns appear weekly at detroitnews.com.