Okudah Celebrates Draft With 'Long Talk' With Mom He Lost In 2017


Amid all the excitement of being drafted third overall by the Lions Thursday night, Jeff Okudah was looking forward to a quiet moment alone. He wanted to talk with someone who couldn't be there to celebrate, who hasn't been there for a while.

Like any draft pick, Okudah wanted to talk with his mom. 

Marie Okudah passed away due to cancer in 2017, less than a week into her son's time at Ohio State. But Okudah still speaks with her frequently. He even wrote her a letter when he declared for the draft. 

And what would she have said Thursday night? 

"She would have been in tears," said Okudah. 

Not only was her son drafted third overall, he was the highest-drafted cornerback this century. 

"Honestly, she didn’t really understand football like that just being born in Nigeria, but she knew what made me happy," said Okudah. "Just her seeing me smile and being really excited, I think it would bring her to tears. She saw all the hard work.

"It was a moment I really envisioned us embracing each other in, and I’m looking forward to being by myself tonight and just having a long talk with her."

Marie was diagnosed with lymphoma when Okudah and his older sister were toddlers. They grew up as her caregivers. When her sickness prevented her from watching Okudah's high school games in person, she searched his name on the internet and watched his highlights on YouTube. 

"Trying to check out, 'Let me see if he’s as good as he says he is,'" Okudah told ESPN's Tom Rinaldi. 

He was. In fact, Okudah was the No. 1 CB recruit in the country in 2017. With offers from all the nation's top programs, including those in his home state of Texas, he wound up at Ohio State. 

"She told me just follow my dream," said Okudah. "Where my heart’s at, she'll be there with me." 

Six days after he arrived on campus as an early enrollee freshman in January of 2017, Okudah was called into the office of Urban Meyer. His world was about to be shattered; his mom's battle was over. Honoring her memory became his primary motivation. 

"Losing a parent is tough, but you have to wear it on your sleeve sometimes. Put your heart on your sleeve and let that be your motivation, let that fuel your fire. And for me, that’s what I had to do," he said. 

.@jeffokudah arrived at Ohio State Jan. 8, 2017. His mother passed away less than a week later.This is his story of inner strength and resilience. #NFLDraft pic.twitter.com/RpHvw8AjHA

— ESPN (@espn) April 23, 2020

Okudah's journey is far from over, but he reached a major milestone Thursday night. Next is Detroit, and his mom will be with him every step of the way.