Don’t Bother Me I’m Working: Tobenna Okeke

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We have now gone a week without sports due to the Coronavirus. This epidemic has not only affected fans but has setback media members and athletes all across the world. I spoke with XFL Dallas Renegade Linebacker Tobenna Okeke about his journey from the NFL to the XFL, how the virus has affected their season, playing under Bob Stoops, and the new NFL CBA. Okeke played his college ball at Fresno State University, where he helped lead the Bulldogs to two bowl game appearances in his four years there. In 2018 he had a brief stint with the Tennesse Titans and is currently playing in the XFL for the Dallas Renegades.

Where were you when you found out the XFL was discontinuing games?

“Throughout the whole week, we didn’t really know if our season would be canceled, even though all the other major sports were canceled. I was actually still at the facility, we had the hardest practice of the (week) that day and towards the end of the day, we were doing an extra walk-through on defense trying to get some extra things ready before (we) flew out to play our game. Then one of our player personnel guys comes in and he tells our coach to come inside for a meeting and we knew that was it.”

Have your coaches or league officials told you guys anything?

“Yeah, the league sent out a memo the next day, telling us the season would be suspended. We only had five more games left and we were playing for a playoff spot. But they said due to the outbreak it wouldn’t logistically be possible for us to continue with the season, even with the teams being so close in the standings. We were ready to bite the bullet and come back ready for next year.”

What are you doing with all this free time?

“I’m just gonna take a few days to get my body right. So much football in a short amount of time between from mini-camp to training camp to the season. SO right now I’m spending time trying to get my body right, relaxing and doing a lot of icing.”

Talk about your time in the NFL with the Tennesse Titans and how it Correlates to the XFL.

“The NFL is a dream, especially coming (as an) undrafted FA out of college. Being able to be in an NFL locker room, an NFL stadium was surreal. You’re playing with the best of the best, guys you have played with on Madden for years so everything was surreal. Everything was top-notch, high-class facilities, great personnel, and great coaches. It was pretty fun. It was short-lived but hopefully, another opportunity comes.

But the XFL is a good league too. It’s not up to par with the NFL with it being a new startup and everything, but just the way the operations from the first day in, I thought was pretty professional. They gave adequate meal plans, pretty solid facilities. We were using the old Texas Rangers facilities as they are getting a new one this year. We were using their old ball-park that was transformed into a football field and using all their facilities. It was pretty legit too.”

Tobenna Okeke
How hard was it to adjust to the different XFL rules and the format?

“It was definitely weird. There’s little intricacies in the XFL. The hardest one definitely was the kickoff. We are literally five yards apart from our defender, so it changes of the scheme, how you block, how you drop. So many times throughout the year we were changing things, even to this day throughout last practice we were adding things to make it very convenient. I’m not used to ever using these types of rules. The last two minutes of the game is long. The clock stops every time, your pretty much getting another five minutes in the last two minutes of each half. It was definitely something to get used too.”

Talk about playing for Bob Stoops and Mickey Matthews?

“Bob Stoops is the best coach I’ve ever played under. I know that’s a strong statement as I’ve played under a lot of head coaches. But you can see why he wins a lot. His attention to detail is incredible. But he’s not a beat you down to the ground type of coach. He really takes care of the players’ bodies and he actually looks out for us.

I know during training camp a lot of teams were grinding away players, but he asked us how we felt and would give us days to get our bodies right. Don’t get me wrong our practices were physical, but he focused more on the preventative side of injuries so we could have a long season. He’s one of the few coaches that hangs out with us and he takes pride in that, which I thought was pretty dope. A lot of coaches are very business-oriented and they are all about X’s and O’s but he is very personable and thinks about you as a person not just what goes on the field but what’s going on at home. So I thought that was pretty awesome and give him a lot of credit for that.”

“Playing under coach Matthews, he brings a lot of wisdom. He coached at a lot of places, Georgia, Texas State, JMU for long years. He brings a lot of knowledge to the game and has definitely taught me a lot of stuff that will help all throughout the season. Just the professionalism he brings, he teaches everyone like men and he’s a very personable coach. You can come up to him and ask him questions without feeling belittled and a pretty good coach.”

Tobenna Okeke
Have you had time to look at the new CBA, what were your thoughts, and would you have signed it knowing they added another game with an extra bye-week?

“I’ve briefly looked at it, not too much in-depth, but it definitely helps guys like me that were undrafted. It gives us more of an opportunity to make more money in the league while we are there. There are very few millionaires on an NFL team but there are (lots) of thousandaires. The CBA helps with the minimum pay increases for undrafted, first-year, second-year guys so I thought that was pretty awesome. Especially with the marijuana thing now the way our economy is going now and how marijuana is being monetized. I think it being legal in a lot of states, that reducing the fines and restrictions on it was pretty dope for them to do. Especially for a lot of guys that have been penalized for it in the past for marijuana use. So seeing the NFL being more lenient with it is pretty cool.”

“That’s where I wasn’t in agreement with it. Sixteen games is a lot, plus the playoffs. Let’s say you make it to the Super Bowl, that’s 20 games a year. So its a lot of wear and tear on the body. Those bye-weeks do mean a lot for the players. Their practices are hard so the extra gave I wouldn’t have been in favor of that. Me personally I would have signed the new CBA.”

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