When Putnam City North breaks the huddle on offense and the Panther receivers line up against opposing defensive backs, they always have a decisive size advantage.
On one side is Jeff Nwankwo, a 6-6, 200-pound senior and flanked on the other side is 6-4, 210-pound senior Kayhon Russell. Both are accomplished basketball players relatively new to football who are putting their athleticism on display this season on the gridiron.
“Jeff hasn’t played football since sixth grade,” remarked Putnam City North Head Coach Ryan Laverty. “He’s been a basketball kid. Kayhon Russell is in the same mold but he came out last year as a junior. They’ve watched other guys have more opportunities to get their college paid for, saw the Jaden Bray (Norman dual sport star and current Oklahoma State commit) have some success. They just wanted to come play.”
When we play a team, we don’t care who gets the credit,” remarked Nwankwo. “We just want to win.”
“Jeff actually wanted to come out in game three last year, but I said I can’t let you come out this far in the season with all the guys that have been through the summer and all the work,” recalled Laverty. “I said if you’re really serious about it, come out after basketball, get an offseason in with us and go through spring football and team camps and put the work in and you’ve got a chance to be a special player.”
Both players understand that basketball is full of 6-4 and 6-6 players, but a wide receiver with that size can be a hot commodity for college recruiters.
“There’s just so much more opportunities for them throughout football than just being a basketball guy,” said Laverty, who’s in his fifth season in charge of the Panthers. “Really, they’re a blank canvas. The upside on both of those guys is tremendous because they don’t have a lot of bad habits. They’re learning football each and every week and they’re getting better each and every week.”
“I feel like I can separate myself in football better than I can in basketball,” said Russell, who had never played organized football at any level before joining the team last season. “With the height difference and stuff like that, and my skill set, I can make an impact.”
“There’s times where we feel like we have an advantage over the DBs, so we say we would like the ball,” added Nwankwo. “Just give us a chance and we’ll make a play on it.”
Recruiters at the next level take notice of Nwankwo and Russell’s size immediately, but there’s still questions on if they’re able to handle the roughness of the sport.
“That’s been the one question that all college coaches have asked is, how physical are they?” remarked Laverty. “You can’t just teach a kid to have that instinct. You either have it or you don’t. Both of our receivers are physical players. I match them up with anybody in the state as far as the level of physicality they can bring to a team.”
“I definitely was not used to getting hit,” admitted Nwankwo, who recently picked up an offer from Ivy League member Cornell. “Basketball is physical but it’s not nearly as physical as football is.”
The dynamic receiving duo has some words of advice for other basketball players who might be considering giving football a shot.
“They definitely need to try it,” stated Russell, who’s currently receiving attention from several in-state schools. “It could change your life. Don’t limit yourself to one sport. You never know what you can do.”
Putnam City North puts its unbeaten record on the line this Friday, October 23rd, when the sixth-ranked Panthers take on No. 3 Midwest City. YurView will televise this Ford Game of the Week at 7pm CT on Cox Channel 3 or watch the game online.