by Pat Turner, goUTSA.com contributing writer
SAN ANTONIO — Evans Okotcha saw the writing on the wall and the message wasn’t encouraging.
Although he climbed to the starting running back position during his freshman campaign at Portland State, a coaching change occurred during the offseason and the new regime made it clear the Coppell product didn’t fit into their plans.
Instead of hanging around and trying to change their opinion, Okotcha began looking elsewhere. He considered trying out at Texas Tech and Stephen F. Austin was an option as a preferred walk-on. However, what happened turned out to be the opportunity of a lifetime.
During Okotcha’s search, Coppell head coach Joe McBride suggested UTSA.
The program was just getting off the ground and needed players who could contribute immediately. At the time, Okotcha never had heard of the school, but the idea of playing in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision and being part of something new was a major attraction.
And, with that decision, an inspirational story followed.
Okotcha came to UTSA as a preferred walk-on, but he quickly earned a scholarship and currently is the Roadrunners career rushing (859 yards on 180 carries) and touchdowns (16) leader with a chance to do more this season.
“Coach McBride actually coached my brother (Bennett) after I graduated,” said Okotcha, whose brother is a sophomore cornerback for the Roadrunners. “He watched film of me in high school and said I needed to play college football in the state of Texas.
“He mentioned UTSA and basically said the situation was in good hands. He said the program was going to go in the right direction. The more I heard about it, the more appealing it became. The biggest thing I liked about it was the fact I was coming in with most of the experience.
“Coming in, I felt I had a good jump on everything because I was older and had a year under my belt. It was a chance for me to be part of a new program and establish myself as a leader.”
Being a walk-on, even the preferred type, was difficult. After all, Okotcha had to pay his way to college. That was only temporary. After showing what he could do on the football field, a major reward came the second semester while he was in Nigeria for his sister’s wedding.
“My position coach called me right before we got on the plane to come home and said I had an opportunity to be on scholarship,” he said. “I was really happy because not being on scholarship was tough. I felt blessed and honored.”
Okotcha’s biggest test, however, came on the football field when UTSA coaches initially decided to move him from tailback to fullback.
The 5-foot-9, 220-pound senior never had played the position, which meant he had to learn how to handle the responsibilities on the run.
It became frustrating during the grooming period, but everything eventually worked out.
Okotcha has had enough carries to become UTSA’s rushing leader, but being able to deliver the block that opens the door for teammates like David Glasco II has brought another feeling of accomplishment. In addition, he is getting more pass catching opportunities.
“I had always played tailback,” Okotcha said. “Going to fullback drained me a little bit at first, but I accepted my role. It really humbled me and helped me understand you have to work for what you want.
“It helped me become hungry again. It reminded me how good I can be if I stay ambitious and work. Blocking gives me a chance to see the field. I feel like I add another dimension to our offense by being able to block and catch passes out of the backfield.”
His appreciation for the opportunity is evident when he hits the field and it hasn’t gone unnoticed by head coach Larry Coker.
“Evans is a great story,” Coker said. “He came here as a walk-on and worked to get to where he is now. He is a tough, hard-nosed guy who loves to play football.”
Now that Okotcha’s final season with the Roadrunners is underway, the senior wants it to not only be the one that stands out, but one that sets the tone for the program’s future.
UTSA already has made strides in its three years of competition.
After registering a 4-6 mark during its inaugural season, the Roadrunners improved tremendously last season and went 8-4 overall and 3-3 in their only season in the Western Athletic Conference.
Okotcha is confident he and his teammates can make a statement in their debut campaign as a member of Conference USA.
UTSA plays its final non-conference contest against Houston today the Alamodome and getting another win against a quality opponent would be another boost for the Roadrunners.
Okotcha hopes to see more after that when UTSA hits the meat of its league schedule. After all, a successful year would be the ideal finish to what has turned out to be a special career.
“I’m grateful everything has worked out so well here.” he said. “We have come so far, yet we have so much more to accomplish. I have goals and want to stay hungry so I can reach them. I want to re-establish myself as an impact player. I want to make noise as a team and individual in this conference.”
Whatever happens the rest of the way, Okotcha believes the Roadrunners have a solid foundation in place for the future.
“If you put things in perspective, we’ve done pretty well given our timeline,” he said. “We’ve come a long way, but we’re not getting content. We have set high expectations and tackle each goal one by one. We feel like we are a quality program that can compete with any team in the nation and that goes a long way. We’re really building something here.”