Christian Okoye was a star running back for the Kansas City Chiefs from his time in the league between the 1988 and 1992 seasons, and became one of the more feared "big backs" in the game at 6-foot-1 and a whopping 253 pounds.
Lovingly nicknamed "The Nigerian Nightmare" because of his heritage and fear-inducing running style, Okoye was going "beast mode" before Marshawn Lynch ever stepped on a football field.
Fast-forward to 2017 and a new "nightmare" is being unleashed, this time in Pittsburgh for Steelers training camp. Terrell Watson is a third-year running back with a journeyman's background just trying to stick on the final 53-man roster. Another power back, Watson comes in at 240 pounds which is the heaviest for any runner the Steelers currently have.
What makes Watson and Okoye so similar? Well for starters, they both played their collegiate football at Azusa Pacific, and both of them tore up the competition in their collegiate days.
Scan the list of APU records for rushing and you will find Okoye and Watson littered throughout, with the latter holding career records in yards, attempts, and touchdowns. The Nigerian Nightmare still holds the record for longest rushing play at 94 yards, and keeps the mark for 197 yards in the first half of a game back in 1985 vs. Whittier.
But once leaving school, both players struggled out to early starts to their pro careers, even with Okoye being a second round pick by the Chiefs in 1987. It took three years for the Nigerian star to break 1,000 yards, and he would only do so twice in a career that lasted six seasons.
Watson is going through even more of a struggle, holding just 28 rushing yards in his short career with one score in a final week game with the Eagles in 2016. That contest is the only time Watson has been part of a 53-man roster in the NFL.
With the 2017 NFL season approaching, training camps are the talk of town as teams prepare their rosters for a potentially long season that can last until February for at least two squads.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are a team that can legitimately win a Super Bowl this year, and Watson might be a part of those festivities if he continues his hot play in Latrobe, PA for Steelers camp. With Le'Veon Bell absent with a "holdout" and rookie James Conner currently dinged up with an AC sprain in his shoulder, more carries in practice have gone to backs lower on the depth chart, and that is how Watson has been able to shine.
On August 6, the Steelers moved their practice for one night to Heinz Field away from St. Vincent College for their first-ever family fest for the passionate Steelers fans. Even though it is just practice and preseason games starting this week will be the real barometer for how good players are in their quest to make a roster, the new "Nightmare" was an absolute star during the practice drills according to most Pittsburgh media outlets.
The former Cougar of APU who piled up more than 5,000 career yards in school was the shining star in goal line situations, plunging into the end zone three straight times after the offense for Pittsburgh failed to do so before that when going up against a stout defensive line.
So what does this all mean when trying to examine a practice? Basically, Watson is starting to get into the good graces of coaches for the Steelers and should see the lion's share of carries once the top of the depth chart sees their action in the preseason opener against the Giants.
Furthermore, Pittsburgh likes to keep at least one running back on their practice squad, and traditionally that back is a bigger runner who can work in goal line areas. Watson fits that bill and looks to be the early favorite to land that spot barring injuries to himself or others that could catapult him to the active roster.
It may have taken a few years for the D2 star alum to get his professional career going in the right direction, but this is no different than another pro player from Azusa who ended up living in the nightmares of defenses and their coordinators.
The game may be different than it was in the past, but a new "Nightmare" is coming out of Azusa Pacific to wreak havoc on defenses.