OU football preseason watch: ‘Obo’ named to Butkus Award candidate list

OU football linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo’s importance to the Sooner defense in 2017 is reflected in his candidacy for three individual national awards.

The player more commonly and simply referred to as “Obo” is on the 2017 preseason watch list for the Bednarik Award, the Nagurski Trophy and now the Butkus Award. All three reward defensive excellence. The Bednarik Award and the Nagurski Trophy both recognize the best defensive player in college football, and the Butkus Award goes to the best linebacker at each the high school, college and professional levels.

A second-team All-Big 12 selection last season, the player with the difficult-to-pronounce-and-spell name recorded nine quarterback sacks last season, tying Eric Striker’s single-season record at OU and finishing third in that category in the Big 12. “Obo’s” 13 career sacks are currently third most in OU football history.

Okoronkwo’s 12 tackles for loss in 2016 were third best in the conference.

Last week, he was one of five Sooner teammates named to the 2017 Preseason All-Big 12 Team.

The redshirt senior from Houston who wears the No. 31 jersey on defense has been playing the outside linebacker position for the Sooners, or what is sometimes referred to as the “Sam” linebacker.

The Sooners are expected to switch to a four-man defensive front this season, which means they will go with three linebackers. In addition to Okoronkwo, senior Emmanuel Beal and sophomore Caleb Kelly will man to other two starting jobs at linebacker.

Okoronkwo seemingly was born to be a football player. At birth he weighed in at 12 pounds, 14 ounces. Despite his size advantage, he told an interviewer at Big 12 Media Days on Monday that his start in football came later than most of his contemporaries.

He has clearly made up for lost time and is expected to be one of the key contributors on the OU team in the coming season.