Kenny Okoye had a tough decision to make, will he participate in basketball or track.
He was great at each for Saugus High School, but the winter sports season includes both sports. He can’t do both. He went with track, but it wasn’t easy after three years of hoops with the Sachems.
"The switch to track was easily one of the hardest decisions I made in my life," said Okoye. "I have been doing basketball since freshman year, so I've grown very close to all my teammates.
"At the end of my junior year, I had a very successful spring track season, specifically in the triple jump, where I won the state divisional championship."
Not to mention, he had recruitment attention from colleges for track.
"I knew to get a very good offer I would have to excel at another track event," Okoye said. "I was always interested in high jumping, because I've always been a good jumper. But I was very worried about dropping basketball and doing indoor track and not excelling in high jump, because then there would almost be no point of leaving basketball. After talking to my friends and families and spending some time thinking on my own, I finally made the decision to leave basketball and pursue indoor track."
Okoye made the most of it. He recently placed second in the Division 5 EMass Championship Meet in the high jump with a leap of 6-4, breaking the indoor school record. Then, the following week, he did even better on a bigger stage.
At the All-State meet, he took fourth with a jump of 6-6. He was seventh at last Saturday’s New England Meet.
That came after a terrific Northeastern Conference season. It was rough at first learning the high jump, though.
"I had my first practice high jumping, and it was definitely something I wasn't used to, but my athleticism helped me jump over the bar," he said. "Other than that, my technique was horrible."
Okoye got better. He ended up finishing second in the conference with a jump of 5-10, and third in the 55-meter hurdles with a time of 8.44.
His goal for the high jump at the aforementioned EMass meet was to get that first-place medal and upset the No. 1 seed.
"I was pushing myself hard at practice, and I was studying the high jump by watching YouTube videos and helpful drills," Okoye said. "I knew to get good at high jumping I had to gain form. I couldn't just rely on my athleticism. Saugus has no jumping coaches, so when it comes down to it you're practically on your own. With that being said, I had a very supportive coach in Bob Catinazzo, who gave me the motivational words I needed to push me in the right direction."
He also had his uncle, Olisa Obiefuna, a former Saugus track standout and All-American in college, who was most supportive throughout the entire process.
"Kenny had an amazing season that just came to a close this past Saturday during the New England Regional Championship Meet at the Reggie Lewis Center," Catinazzo said. "Kenny came onboard this winter, and decided he wanted to give high jump a try never having done it. He's always been a real good hurdler, and in our outdoor program he excels in the long jump, and he's also one of the best in the state in the triple jump. Kenny immediately came in, and made a difference. His hard work and dedication in becoming a state-level high jumper was evident from the beginning. He's a great kid, and I'm extremely proud of him."
What’s Okoye’s goal for the spring? Be a state champion in the triple jump, and divisional state champion in the high jump. He also hopes to qualify for nationals in both events. He wants to break school records. Okoye’s reaching for lofty, but very attainable goals for him.
"If I can make nationals in one of those events or even both and go against some of the best in the country, I'll be more than satisfied," Okoye said. "College-wise, I'm still searching for the right fit for me. I do have some colleges in mind, but we are still discussing my final offer. I'll most likely be committed to a college by early April."
On the side, meanwhile, he’ll be a student, while continuing to work at DSW, a shoe store, how fitting.
And, believe it not, he’s not always spectacular at his food choices. If it ain’t broke, right?
"I'm usually on my phone either watching track or studying my film," Okoye said. "If not that then I'm chilling In my room playing PS4. My eating habits as of late have not been very good. I've been eating a lot of fast food, but I try to cut down on that, especially when I know I have a big meet coming up. But now that my season is over, there's a possibility I will go back to that horrible eating habit, but hopefully not. Lucky for me I have a very fast metabolism, and I go to the gym on my free time."