The 2020 NFL Draft kicks off for its first-ever virtual ceremony on Thursday evening, and all eyes will once again be on future NFL superstar Jeffrey Okudah. While the annual event was to be held in Las Vegas, Nevada, with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell making the big announcements on stage, due to coronavirus, he will now be calling out the 2020 NFL Draft picks from his home in New York.
Due to the COVID-19 shut down, instead of walking the red carpet and onto the stage once his name is called, the former Ohio State cornerback will be watching from home with his family in Grand Prairie, Texas. However, one key member will be absent, his mother, Marie Okudah, who died from cancer on January 14, 2017, six days after Okudah left for Ohio State.
Marie was diagnosed with lymphoma when Okudah was a toddler. The treatment often rendered her unable to go watch her son play football, but Okudah told Buckeye Extra that she would watch highlight videos online and devour all news articles that mentioned her son. “She felt like she was there in a way,” Okudah said.
On Thursday night, Okudah, 21, knows that his mother will there in spirit. Back in September, when Okudah caught his first interception, the defensive player tweeted, “Mom is looking down smiling right about now! All GOOD.”
“Everything that happens with me, she’s just watching over me, letting it happen,” he said. “With that interception, it’s like it’s time, it’s time to make your mark on the college football scene.”
Okdudah Penned a Letter ‘Dear Mom’ in The Player’s Tribune One Week Before His Mother Died
Okudah was a star defensive player in high school and became the No. 1 safety prospect in the country. Leaving to attend school 1,000 miles away from wasn’t an easy decision for Okudah, who also fielded offers from Oklahoma. But Ohio State Buckeyes’ defensive coordinator Greg Schiano’s advice encouraged him that it was the right move for his career.
“He told me, ‘I know you’ve gone through a lot of things, a lot of tough times in your life, it’s time to take a turn for the better,” Okudah recalled. “If you come here, you can start that turn. That hit home for me.”
Okudah detailed his feeling about leaving his sick mother to attend Ohio State in a letter entitled “Dear Mom,” for The Player’s Tribune. He wrote, “Mom, you’ve done such an amazing job raising my sister and me. Now that she’s off at Texas A & M and I’m headed to Ohio State, you might think your work is done. You’ve always said that you would be content with your life once you saw both of us attending college.”
“But just you wait, Mom,” he added. “You’ve spent your whole life giving me the support I needed to achieve my dreams. Someday soon, I promise you, I’m going to help you live yours.
Okudah Found Strength & Support Through His Ohio State Teammates Following His Mother’s Death
Following his mother’s death, “It was tough because I was far away,” Okudah said. “Not that it really mattered, but I was so far away and I couldn’t do anything about it. For me, I never dealt with anyone passing away. So for the first one to be your mom, it kind of hits differently.”
Okudah had enrolled as a freshman early in January 2017, along with running back J.K. Dobbins and linebacker Baron Browning, Okudah quickly grew extremely close with Dobbins, who had lost his father at age 15. “After that, me and him were attached at the hip,” Okudah said. And when Okudah went home for the funeral, Browning traveled with him. “We all just looked after each other.”
On January 1, Okudah published a second moving essay in The Player’s Tribune entitled, “A Letter to My Mom,” in which he detailed the moment Coach Schiano brought him into his office to tell him she had died.
He wrote of Ohio State, “It was a place that I could count on. It was a place where I could show my emotions, and that would be O.K. It was a place where I could grieve, however I needed to, and no one would judge me. It was a place where everyone would have my back. I hope knowing that makes you smile a little, Mom — just knowing that we really did end up choosing the right school.”
By his side on Draft Day, Okudah will have Karen, who referred to as “the best sister I could ask for, and who helps me to keep your memory alive every day.” He also has his Aunt Jane, whom he wrote has “brought so much sanity into my life whenever things have threatened to spiral out of control.”