When Emeka Egbuka was injured the summer after his freshman year, it stripped the budding star receiver of an opportunity to play alongside his Heir Football Academy teammates during 7-on-7 tournaments.
Instead, Egbuka was given an even better experience. One that sparked a love he didn’t quite know was there – and one that looks like it could be the final factor in choosing where he plays his college ball.
Egbuka was handed a playbook and the role of offensive coordinator for his fellow freshman teammates, not deferring to anyone his elder while making decisions on the fly.
“There was a playbook, and I was just calling the plays and just taking in what my players saw on the field and giving them the opportunities and the mismatches they were asking for,” Egbuka told Eleven Warriors.
Egbuka did a bang-up job as a rookie OC. His team advanced to one of the state’s league championship games that summer in Washington, with his freshman group losing in a face-off with the older HFA team.
“We ended up playing our No. 1 team with all the juniors and stuff, and we were able to hang in with them with me as the OC, which I thought was pretty cool,” Egbuka said. “It was my first time on the job, and we ended up coming up short by a touchdown. But just to make it to the championship, I thought was pretty cool.”
The experience he had that summer ended up being one of the biggest moments when Egbuka realized how much he liked coaching.
He has held other coaching jobs since then, including one coaching his 8-year-old brother’s flag football team and another mentoring kids in a padded little league, and he’s enjoyed each stop.
“I’ve had opportunities to coach younger guys, and just having the opportunity to influence peoples’ lives like that in a positive way and kind of help guide them on a path that I once was on when I was their age and help them figure it out – I really like that (aspect of coaching),” Egbuka said. “I always knew I wanted to help people. But I never really thought about crossing football and that together. Just teaching people about my passion and helping them in that way I thought would be a really fun thing to do.”
The end goal for Egbuka is the NFL.
At 6-foot-1, 190 pounds with a 4.42 time in the 40 and a 35.10-inch vertical to blend with incredibly smooth route running, a competitiveness to go up and grab a one-on-one ball against defensive backs, no fear of physicality while going across the middle of the field and the intelligence to top it all off (he has a 4.0 GPA), reaching that level is squarely in the crosshairs for the class of 2021’s No. 9-ranked overall prospect.
He’s listed as the No. 1 junior athlete in the nation, and he has the potential to be a college star in whatever system he chooses – whether that’s at Ohio State, Clemson, Washington, Stanford or Oklahoma.
1 Timothy 4:8 ..— Emeka 21 (@emeka_egbuka) October 16, 2019
FINAL 10 .. pic.twitter.com/2gGhnx9nvq
But when his career as a receiver is over, Egbuka wants to already have a strong foundation in place for his post-playing days, and that’s one of the reasons Ohio State has emerged as one of the final frontrunners to land him.
“I’m really looking for a place that’s gonna develop me as a football player and as a person, and the profession I’m aiming for is obviously to play in the NFL,” Egbuka said. “But after that, if I’m able to become a collegiate coach, that’s what I really wanna get into. Academics are still really important (in my college decision), but a lot of it’s about the connections as well.
“They have a huge alumni network so there’s obviously a lot of connections and just being able to start out in a role like a (graduate assistant) like a lot of them have and get taken under the wing of someone like Coach (Brian) Hartline – it could be really beneficial.”
Egbuka, who says a role as a receivers coach or an offensive coordinator are the positions he believes he would enjoy the most, has had an ever-growing relationship with Hartline since December, when the former Buckeye star first made the trip to Steilacoom, Wash., and stepped foot in Egbuka’s high school.
In a little less than a year of knowing him, Egbuka has already seen just how Hartline would be able to help him run his own receivers room in the future.
“They just want me to understand that I’m their guy, and they’re gonna come after me hard but they’re gonna be there for me most importantly.”– Emeka Egbuka on meeting with Ohio State's coaches this weekend
And as his own connections with Hartline, Ryan Day and the rest of the Buckeyes’ coaching staff have been building, he’s learning the best ways to cultivate and foster relationships. That process has been twofold, as it’s helping him see whether or not Ohio State would be a good fit for him, and he could use the experience down the road if he gets a chance to hit the recruiting trail with roles reversed.
“They’ve grown a lot,” Egbuka said of his relationships with the Buckeye coaches. “I definitely talk with Coach Day every week and Coach Hartline every other day. Not always about football. It’s building relationships. We talk about other stuff, talking about family and stuff like that. We’ve really grown, and I’m glad we’ve been able to get close.”
His connection with Day was born shortly after his one with Hartline began, as Day last winter became the first Division I head coach to enter Steilacoom High School, which is home to about 900 kids from a town hovering around a population of 6,000.
“It was definitely a big impact (when Day visited),” Egbuka said. “Being from a small town like Steilacoom, head coaches of huge universities with top five or top 10 programs coming through a little high school like that is pretty cool.”
This weekend, Egbuka returned the favor, as he and his mom made the plane trip to the Midwest for Ohio State’s rain-soaked victory over Wisconsin. Egbuka had already been to Columbus in the spring, so his main reason for making this visit on his own dime was so he could experience a game day at the Shoe.
It was also an opportunity for him to get closer with the coaches and for them to let him know he’s the No. 1 receiver on their recruiting board.
“Yeah, I definitely hear that from them,” Egbuka said of him being the coaches’ top receiver target. “And I’m obviously really tight with the coaching staff, with Coach Day, Coach Hartline and Coach (Keenan) Bailey. They’re all great guys.
“We’ve been talking for a while, and we’re all really close. It’s just the comfort level. They just want me to understand that I’m their guy, and they’re gonna come after me hard but they’re gonna be there for me most importantly.”
The coaches will certainly be there for Egbuka. Even if he replaces them on the headset one day.