From former walk-on to four-year starter, W&M's Ugokwe is an intriguing NFL prospect

Dave Johnson
Contact Reporterdjohnson@dailypress.com
Draft analysts consider Ugokwe a potential late-round pick

William and Mary offensive line coach Bob Solderitch thinks the world of Jerry Ugokwe, both on and off the field, but he isn't overselling him.

NFL stardom might come, Solderitch knows, but it won't be immediate.

Ugokwe, a four-year starter at right tackle for the Tribe, is still relatively new to this. He didn't play football until his junior year of high school, which was the main reason no one offered him a scholarship.

But there is intrigue. Ugokwe was measured at the NFL scouting combine at 6-foot-7 and 321 pounds with an arm length of 35 3/8 inches. Those numbers alone will draw attention as the NFL draft nears.

"He's so long, and that's what the scouts say they're trying to find," Solderitch said. "He's got good feet, so he's not a big, stiff kid. He's gotten better each year, and I think he can still get even better.

"I don't know if he's going to go in and play in the NFL right now, but if they give him a chance and he gets with the right program, he's got a shot. He's still a diamond in the rough, but he's come a long way in the five years he's been here."

Ugokwe (pronounced "you-go-kway") will get a shot one way or another. Draft analysts consider him a potential late-round pick. If that doesn't happen, he surely will be signed as a free agent.

In his draft profile on NFL.com, Ugokwe is projected to be drafted in the sixth or seventh round. His grade of 5.18 translates to "has a better-than-average change to make an NFL roster."

Ugokwe believes the combine helped his stock.

"It was definitely a great opportunity, especially coming from a small school," said Ugokwe, only the seventh Tribe player to be invited. "I talked to a lot of (general managers), coaches and scouts. I feel like I took advantage of the moment. Coming from here, it was a big opportunity for me. And I treated it that way."

Ugokwe is projected as a right tackle although he played each side at William and Mary.

"I'm open to both," he said. "In the NFL, you have to play multiple positions. You might have to play guard, and I'll be open to that. But most teams that have seen me are looking at me at left and right tackle."

It's been an interesting journey for Ugokwe, the son of Nigeria's former ambassador to Austria. Until his junior year at Georgetown Prep in North Bethesda, Md., he had played only basketball. Finally, he listened to the numerous suggestions that he give football a try.

He had no scholarship offers coming out of high school, but William and Mary took him as a preferred walk-on. After redshirting his first year, he started the 2013 opener at West Virginia.

That was his first of 42 Tribe starts, including 24 in a row to end his career.

"He came really far," Solderitch said. "As I told the scouts, he got better every year. He's going to improve with another year and another year.

"He's still working at getting to the best that he can be. He has all the intangibles you'd be looking for as far as being a tackle.

Ugokwe's agent, Sunny Shah of Paramount Sports and Entertainment, didn't return a message for comment. But Ugokwe said the two are optimistic heading into the draft.

"We're talking to teams and scouts every day," he said. "We're hearing a lot of good things, and hopefully soon we'll hear the big news we're expecting."

Steve Cluley, the Tribe's starting quarterback the last three seasons, is also hoping to hear some big news.

Cluley spent January through mid-March in San Diego under the tutelage of Todd Durkin, a conditioning coach and personal trainer who owns Fitness Quest 10. He also worked with Cree Morris, a quarterback coach in Southern California.

Cluley, who ended his career with 35 consecutive starts, had an up-and-down senior season. Still feeling the effects of a hip injury that required surgery, he had as many interceptions as touchdowns (12).

But working with Durkin and Morris, he said, has changed his game.

"It was a great experience learning the physical and mental aspects," Cluley said. "It got me in the best shape, and the best mental shape, that I've ever been in my life."

This isn't considered a deep draft for quarterbacks, but Cluley understands the odds of him getting drafted aren't high.

"Realistically, I'd be an undrafted free agent," he said. "But I wouldn't say it's impossible."

Johnson can be reached at 757-247-4649.

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