W&M offensive lineman Ugokwe blossoms into NFL prospect

— With one look at Jerry Ugokwe, William and Mary's noticeable right tackle, a fair question comes to mind: How could a 6-foot-8, 305-pound lineman not have a single recruiting offer coming out of high school?

Actually, it's a simple story.

He didn't play football until his junior year at Georgetown Prep in Bowie, Md. So when he joined the Tribe's program as a walk-on, he was considered a project. A rather intriguing project.

"We see guys like that and they have, in our estimation, potential," W&M coach Jimmye Laycock said. "When we brought him in as a walk-on, we felt if he stayed with the program, if he worked with the program, he had an upside.

"We thought early on we had something. Sure enough, he's proven us correct."

Sure enough. Going into Saturday's trip to No. 6 James Madison, Ugokwe has started 36 games, including the last 17. His size is an obvious plus, but he has good footwork, probably from his basketball days. And a career in the NFL has become a possibility.

The son of a diplomat who immigrated to the U.S. in his 20s, Ugokwe (pronounced "you-go-kway") showed little interest in football. Until, that is, he caved to those around him who kept saying he should give it a try.

So in his junior year at Georgetown Prep, he played both sports. When it became clear that football would be his best bet, he dropped hoops.

"It was a really late start," Ugokwe said. "I felt behind the curve at first. It was challenging, and since I'm a guy who likes challenges, I took it head-on. And it's been pretty good so far."

In his first camp, Ugokwe was clearly behind. But line coach Bob Solderitch played him with the second string in practice.

After a redshirt season, he started eight games as a freshman. His first start came at West Virginia in front of 56,350 fans.

"It was a project, but it was one we wanted to go for," Laycock said. "He's turned out to be a good player."

In addition to his path here, Ugokwe comes from an interesting background. His father, also named Jerry, used to be Nigeria's ambassador to Austria. He now has a different job in the Nigerian government.

The younger Jerry was born in Dallas after his parents immigrated there. He grew up primarily in Maryland, but the family has taken trips to Nigeria.

"My dad showed me a lot of places where he grew up and where my mom grew up," he said. "You get a different kind of view when you go there."

An economics major, Ugokwe said he might want to be a diplomat himself one day. But first, he's hoping to have a shot at the NFL, which wasn't even on his radar six years ago.

Ugokwe said he believes his chances are good. Laycock agreed, though with some clarification.

"Let's put it this way: He's getting a lot of looks," he said. "Now, what they say, what they like, what they don't like, what they do, I couldn't tell you.

"But I can tell you we're having the traffic through here. The comment from some people (is), 'There's not many like that.' "

Notes

In last week's 21-12 loss to New Hampshire, W&M was without its starting kicker and punter, which Laycock declared to be a first in his 37-year career as head coach.

Kicker Nick Dorka and punter Hunter Windmuller are both questionable for JMU. So appears to be defensive end Peyton Gryder, who has missed the last two games with a back injury. …

In 38 games head-to-head, JMU has outscored W&M 927-926. …

Though its offense is struggling, the Tribe is doing one thing right: It has lost only one fumble this year.

Johnson can be reached by phone at 757-247-4649.

W&M (2-3, 0-2 CAA) AT NO. 6 JMU (4-1, 2-0)

WHEN: 3:30 p.m.

WHERE: Bridgeforth Stadium, Harrisonburg.

TV/RADIO: CSN/92.3FM, 107.9FM.

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