Before the 2011 season, Chinedu Oparaku remembered hearing an announcement on DuVal High School's public address system reminding students about football tryouts.
The then-sophomore had never played the sport, but intrigued, he went into DuVal coach Dameon Powell's office and said he wanted to join the team.
“I just knew it was something I had to try,” Oparaku said.
Three seasons and a few dozen sacks later, he's glad he did.
Oparaku was a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks this fall in his final season in DuVal's football program. The senior recorded 26 sacks to help lead the Tigers to a 10-2 season and an appearance in the Class 4A South Region championship game.
“He's a relentless player. He can't be blocked,” Powell said.
Oparaku's performance picked up as the games gained significance. In the Class 4A South Region semifinal, he recorded three sacks and recovered a game-changing fumble in DuVal's 14-12 victory over Henry A. Wise (7-4), the defending state champions.
In Saturday's 18-17 loss to Suitland (12-0), he recorded multiple sacks and tackles behind the line of scrimmage helping limit the Rams' high-powered offense.
Oparaku finished the season with 78 tackles, 14 hurries, five fumble recoveries, two blocked punts, one safety and one touchdown.
Oparaku said he didn't know much about football before joining DuVal's program. He watched the Baltimore Ravens and the Washington Redskins on television, but lacked playing experience.
He caught on quickly, Powell said. At first he relied on his athletic ability, Powell said, but now he's gained skills to maximize his talent.
“He's a little bit more seasoned,” Powell said.
DuVal senior lineman Jesse Manful said Oparaku was helpful to have around as a teammate. He was a good motivator since he never took plays off during practice, Manful said.
“It's like he's making me better, but I'm making him better,” Manful said.
Manful said Oparaku, who recorded four sacks in an October victory over Bowie, improved significantly the last few seasons.
“He picked up the stuff pretty quickly,” Manful said “... I've seen him get better over the years. He's gotten way better.”
Oparaku wrestled in the 152-pound weight class as a freshman, Powell said. He has since grown into a 6-foot-2, 195-pound speedy defensive lineman — he ran a 4.5-second 40-yard dash, Powell said.
This season he played tight end in addition to defensive line.
“He kind of knows how the offense works. That adds to his craft,” Manful said.
Oparaku said he put extra pressure on himself in his senior year.
“My goal was to get a college scholarship. So I knew I had to step my game up,” Oparaku said.
The hard work was rewarded. Oparaku said he received his first offer from Fairmont State University — “I was like 'I can't believe this is finally happening. All that work is paying off'” — and expects to receive offers from other schools.
Oparaku, 17, said he is confident he will thrive at the next level.
“As long as I stick to my techniques and my craft, I can overcome anything,” he said.