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Pitt FB Recruiting

Early Enrollee Samuel Okunlola’s Pass Rushing Prowess Fits Pitt’s Defense to a T

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On National Signing Day, the early one in the middle of December, Pitt’s 2022 recruiting class was mainly set in stone. For the most part, the recruits who were expected to put pen to paper and officially sign were known, and only a couple of names were considered shots to give a surprise commitment.

One of those names was Samuel Okunlola, a four-star defensive end from Thayer Academy in Brockton, Massachusetts.

As a top four-star out of Thayer, ranked as the 23rd-rated weakside defensive and second-rated recruit out of Massachusetts, boasted over 50 college offers. But where most of the top recruits of 2022 were already committed, Okunlola hadn’t made a decision yet.

With offers from the likes of Auburn, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia, Michigan, Penn State, Oregon, Texas, USC and even a handful of Ivy League options, Okunlola had as many options as anyone in the country. And on NSD, Okunlola announced his intentions and officially signed with Pitt.

However, while it may have seemed like Okunlola’s decision came as a spur-of-the-moment choice, he had narrowed down his choice and came to Pitt as his conclusion a couple of days before his official decision.

Tight ends coach Tim Salem was Okunlola’s primary recruiter out of Thayer, but his relationship with Charlie Partridge, Pitt’s associate head coach and defensive line coach, was a key factor in his journey from Massachusetts to Pittsburgh.

“We definitely had a good relationship,” Okunlola said Wednesday at Pitt’s South Side facility. “A big reason why I’m here right now. He’s definitely one of the best defensive line coaches in the country, and that definitely played a big part in that.”

Now that Okunlola has arrived in Pittsburgh, coming in in January as an early enrollee, he’s joined a very, very deep defensive ends room that features the likes of Habakkuk Baldonado, Deslin Alexandre and Dayon Hayes at the top.

It’s going to be next to impossible to crack the field as a true freshman, but aside from just figuring out life as the new kid in town, Okunlola is excited to continue to learn within the system. And his fit with Pitt — as Pitt’s defense recorded the second-most sacks in the country in 2021 — fits his philosophy perfectly.

Okunlola thrives in his ability to get after the opposing quarterback, and he feels like his versatility will help fit Pitt’s system to a T. And despite the scale of the names ahead of him on the depth chart, he’s approaching the challenge of finding the field the same as he would anything else.

“That’s normal,” Okunlola said. “Every day you show up to compete. Everywhere you go there’s competition. In life there’s competition, even for a normal job, a normal person is competing with other people for that job.”

With a 6-foot-4, 230-pound frame that can along the defensive line or as an outside linebacker, Okunlola is capable of playing with his hand in the dirt or standing up. And while he’s a standout pass rusher, he also caught seven balls for 222 yards (31 yards per reception) and two touchdowns. He’s an athlete.

And while Okunlola has left Thayer for Pitt, there’s another Okunlola still playing for the Tigers. Samson, a high four-star offensive lineman in the class of 2023, is holding down the fort. Samson has picked up an offer from Pitt, along with 38 more.

As a Top-40 recruit in the cyle, ranked as the third-rated offensive lineman in the class, he’s already one of the most sought-after recruits in the nation. And while Pitt has offered Samson, Samuel is letting his younger brother experience the process for himself.

However, Pitt has made it a priority in getting out to Thayer to see Samson. Pat Narduzzi has been at Thayer, and Samson shared his thoughts on how his process has gone with Pitt so far.

“I’m hearing from Pitt now, I talked with their offensive line coach last week,” Okunlola told PSN in January. “Me possibly playing with my brother would be cool and all but, in the end, my decision will come down to me going to the best o-line school possible. I’ll look at Pitt and see if that would be best for me and then go from there. I’m taking everything very slowly.”

Samson’s chances at Pitt are uncertain at best, but Samuel has arrived. And he’s going to work toward perfecting his game as the next great Pitt pass rusher.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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