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NOTEBOOK : Azusa Finds an Okoye Replacement, but It's Hard to Replace Great Back

August 13, 1987

It did not figure that the 1987 Azusa Pacific University football team would have an easy time replacing graduated tailback Christian Okoye with a player of comparable size.

After all, there are not many 6-2 and 255-pound tailbacks playing at any level of competition.

But the Cougars have gone from one extreme to the other.

That's because Azusa Pacific's replacement for Okoye at tailback figures to be 5-8 and 175-pounder Brian White, a junior transfer from Southwestern Community College of Chula Vista.

Besides the obvious size difference, Azusa Pacific will have difficulty matching Okoye's other attributes such as strength, speed and breakaway ability.

Okoye, who has 4.4-second speed in the 40-yard dash and was a second-round draft choice of the Kansas City Chiefs, finished his three-year football career as the school's all-time rushing leader. A two-time NAIA All-American, Okoye rushed for a school-record 1,689 yards and 21 touchdowns as a senior.

Figures such as those are difficult for any team to replace.

It is even more impressive when one considers the early impact that Okoye is having on Kansas City. In his first professional game, against the San Francisco 49ers last week in Canton, Ohio, Okoye led the Chiefs with 74 yards in only eight carries, an average of 9.25 yards.

Unfortunately for Azusa Pacific, it does not appear there are any players like Okoye waiting in the wings this season.

If preseason All-American teams are indicative, it could be a good year for interior linemen for San Gabriel Valley prep football teams.

Two valley linemen have received honorable mention on the Street and Smith's magazine list of the top seniors in the nation and another has been named among super scout Max Emfinger's preseason top 200 national prospects.

El Monte Arroyo's Rick Fuller and El Monte Mountain View's Mark Johnson, both offensive and defensive linemen, received honorable mention from Street and Smith's and Diamond Bar defensive lineman Bascom Mellon was named to Emfinger's team.

Fuller, 6-8 and 280, is easily the biggest of the three. He's also a good all-around athlete, who was one of the top shot putters and discus throwers in the CIF Southern Section last season. He also made Emfinger's national top 200.

But Johnson and Mellon have size too, although they are not as imposing as Fuller. Johnson is 6-3 and 270 and Mellon 6-4 and 240.

Mellon, who has more than adequate 5.0 speed in the 40 dash, is considered the top defensive tackle in the state by Emfinger. Johnson's preseason recognition may be more surprising since Mountain View's program has struggled for most of the last 10 years.

On the other hand, both Fuller and Mellon play for schools that have had success in recent years. Arroyo won the CIF Southeastern Conference title last year and Diamond Bar reached the CIF Eastern Conference semifinals.

With only two weeks before the start of prep football practice Aug. 27, some familiar teams appear to be emerging as the best in the San Gabriel Valley.

The list is headed by Bishop Amat, Muir and Pasadena--three schools that have been among the valley powers in recent years.

An early preseason top 10 could also include Los Altos, Northview, Damien, Arroyo, Diamond Bar, Nogales and Ganesha. But other top schools such as Temple City, Wilson (Hacienda Heights) and Claremont could make the list.

The season starts Sept. 10 and there are several excellent early-season games. Two of the best matchups come Sept. 25 when two-time CIF Coastal Conference champion Muir, which has a 24-game winning streak, faces L.A. City power Banning at Pasadena City College and Bishop Amat hosts Long Beach Poly.

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