The University of North Carolina is sending a strong message to their student athletes and the public of their renewed focus on accountability by barring linebacker Ebele Okakpu from their Pro Day workout March 20.
Okakpu started five games in 2011 before reportedly getting into a sideline argument with assistant coach Allen Mogridge during a 30-24 loss to Miami. He was kicked off the teama day later for "conduct detrimental to the team" byinterim head coach Everett Withers.
For better orworse, universities allowing previously suspendedplayers to participate at their Pro Day workouts is not at all uncommon - at least in the case of relatively minor infractions.
Miami, in fact, allowedwide receiver Aldarius Johnson to work out at their Pro Day despite the fact that he was suspended for the entire season.
Even Marvin Austin, Robert Quinn and Greg Little -- the three players suspended for the entire 2010 season that ultimately led to the demise of Butch Davis getting fired -- were allowed to participate in UNC's 2011 Pro Day.
But new athletic director Bubba Cunningham and head coach Larry Fedora are attempting to distance their program from the actions that eroded the last one.
“Our judgment is determined by our past and certainly we considered Carolina's issues,” Cunningham said of the decision. “But Larry's trying to establish a sense of accountability within the team. And this does factor into being accountable and responsible for your own actions.”
On the one hand, UNC's decision does seem a bit harsh. According toan AP story, however, sources close to the Tar Heel programclaim thatOkakpu's dismissal wasn't just for the argument but for a "series of events."
The 6-2, 220 pound Okakpu onlybecame a starter as a senior, though considering the talent playing ahead of him (Bruce Davis, Quan Sturdivant, Zach Brown, etc.) that fact wouldn'tnecessarilydissuade scouts fromgrading him as a draftable prospect. He saw action primarily on special teams from 2009-11 but emerged asthe team's starting strongside linebacker this year.He missed two games with an ankle sprain butstarted the other five before his suspension, recording 14 tackles, including three tackles for loss.He is not currently among the 60 outside linebacker prospects NFLDraftScout.com currently has rated for the 2012 draft.
Okakpu has been working out at Competitive Edge Sports in Atlanta preparing for the Tar Heels Pro Day. The fact that UNC won't allow him to work out at their facility means he'll have tolatch on elsewhere.
“I'm willing to work as much as I need to because I know what I want,” Okakpu said. “I mean, this is what I want. I feel like no matter what UNC's decision is, I'm still going to give it a shot to try to play in the National Football League.”