Leading by example

North Augusta head coach Dan Pippin can sometimes be hard on his players at practice. But he's careful not to give one of his players too hard of a time.


"I try not to make him too mad in practice," Pippin said. "Because one day I know I'm going to have to go to the hospital, and Emeka Okafor's name's going to be on the door."

Okafor, a senior defensive end for the Yellow Jackets, aspires to be a cardiovascular surgeon. It's a goal that's not on a wish list -- it's on a checklist. He can cross student body president and Beta Club treasurer off the list. He's also won awards as a member of the Future Business Leaders of America and plays a key role in the school's environmental club. The career as a surgeon, he said, will come after he first earns a degree in biomedical engineering.

They are the type of accomplishments that might earn other high school students the label of nerd. But Okafor shatters such stereotypes when he steps on the football field. The 6-foot-4, 200-pound senior leads one of the top defensive units in the area in sacks with seven this season.

"On any other team -- one where you don't have five (NCAA) D-I kids -- you could say he's the best on the team," Pippin said. "He's a well-mannered and respectful kid and a hard worker -- the kind of guy where you're happy he's not on the other side."

Okafor, who shares his name with his cousin, a five-year NBA veteran now with the New Orleans Hornets, said he thrives under the pressure of a hectic schedule. The various clubs and student government responsibilities are demanding, but Okafor said none of it stresses him out. In fact, football has the opposite effect.

"There's no pressure on the football field, especially on this team," he said. "On this team, there's so many great players, I don't have to be the No. 1 MVP. It's like anything else I'm involved in. I have a job to do, and so I do it. That's how I can do everything I do. My whole attitude is: I don't let it stress me out. Whichever one needs the most attention that day is what I do, and the rest takes care of itself."

The most pressing job this week includes stopping Region 5-AAAA rival Aiken on Friday night. The Hornets are known for typically bringing a strong running game, and Okafor's task will be to contain Aiken's tailbacks. On a broader scale, the Yellow Jackets haven't beaten Aiken in the four years Okafor's been a part of the program. It's a fact that brings a slight grimace to his face just talking about it.

"It means a lot to me. The Aiken game was just depressing last year," he said. "This is a big one for all of us out here. Usually this time of year you're just excited to be ready to go to the playoffs, but it's different here because we feel like we can win and go to state. We've come a long way."