Emeka Egbuka has already played — and scored touchdowns — in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. He visited the stadium, which is home to the Atlanta Falcons, last summer with his 7-on-7 team.
And he remembers one play in particular that was part of HEIR Football’s third-place run at the Pylon National Championships.
“I like making big plays,” Egbuka said. “I remember, we were in Atlanta this summer before I went on my (Florida State) visit, and I caught a 40-yard, game-winning touchdown fade ball.
“Everyone went crazy. I loved that atmosphere, and I loved just making plays. ... It was pretty crazy to be playing at a field like that. It was a great experience.”
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These are the big stages Egbuka, a 6-foot-1, 185-pound sophomore football standout at Steilacoom High School, likes to play on. And it probably won’t be the last time you will see him on one.
“He’s a complete player,” Steilacoom offensive coordinator Greg Herd said. “Once the ball is in his hands, he’s very electric, and he’s addicted to the end zone. Whenever it touches his hands, he wants to get there, and he wants to be great.”
Egbuka had a breakout season as a freshman, piling up 808 receiving yards and a team-leading 13 touchdowns, and earned early offers from Florida State, Oregon and Oregon State.
What he’s done this season with the Sentinels — who are the only undefeated team remaining in Pierce County — has only made his list of offers longer.
Six games into his sophomore season, Egbuka has a team-leading 574 receiving yards on 26 catches. He is averaging 161.3 all-purpose yards per game, returns kicks and punts, and has scored 15 total touchdowns.
He has six interceptions — which is tied for the state lead according to MaxPreps — and 10 tackles from his cornerback position. He also averages 30.9 yards per attempt as the team’s punter.
And he is one of three sophomores in the South Sound — along with Kennedy Catholic’s Jabez Tinae and Junior Alexander — who is already on pace to crack the top 10 all-time in Washington for receiving career receiving yards.
“He’s one of the key guys here,” Steilacoom quarterback J.J. Lemming said. “He’s a guy where, if we didn’t have him, it could be a different season.”
Last week, Egbuka picked up three more FBS offers to add to the three he already had — from Florida, WSU and Arizona — in the span of two days.
“It’s obviously a great feeling that all my work is paying off, and I just want to thank the schools and coaches for giving me the opportunity to play the game I love,” Egbuka said.
He said he likes the energy of the Florida schools. He visited FSU in the spring after his 7-on-7 tournament, and liked the family vibe there. The Pac-12 schools are intriguing because they are close to home, he said.
But, there’s plenty more football to be played, and likely many more offers to come, before any decisions are made.
“To think about the things he’s done this year, from a skill standpoint and from an athletic ability standpoint, and thinking he has two-and-a-half more years in high school to develop? I can’t even imagine what it’s going to be like his senior year,” Herd said.
Herd, who played quarterback at Steilacoom and was a wide receiver at Eastern Washington, first saw Egbuka play when the sophomore was a seventh-grader.
“He was kind of a man among boys,” Herd said. “Then I found out he was going to Steilacoom, and me being an alumnus here, I’m like, ‘Man, this guy’s going to do big things here.’ ”
He saw Egbuka play again, when the Sentinels hosted perennial Class 2A powerhouse Tumwater last season, and the game was aired on ROOT Sports. Egbuka had 144 receiving yards and a touchdown that game — and his favorite play of his career to date — though the T-Birds won.
“J.J. threw me a back-shoulder fade, and I kind of like one-hand caught it,” Egbuka said. “It was big in the moment because the game was close and I was able to come up with a big play.”
“Just being a freshman and having that presence on the field, and making the plays he did is very impressive, no matter what level you’re at,” Herd said.
Herd joined Steilacoom’s staff this season, and is one of the many that continues to watch Egbuka impress.
Lemming, the reigning 2A SPSL Sound MVP, said Egbuka’s receiving routes are crisp, and he continues to grow athletically.
“He’s the guy you want to throw the ball to,” Lemming said. “He makes it easy on you. Throw it anywhere and he’s going to come down with it. I’d put him up (against) anyone in the state. I don’t think anyone can guard him.”
Lemming remembers a specific play in practice from Egbuka’s freshman season when he first realized how special his young receiver could be.
“(Emeka) went up with (former Steilacoom reciever) T.J. Page last year, and it was a one-handed catch, and he came down with it,” Lemming said. “He came back to the huddle and I was like, ‘Did you catch that?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’ I was like, ‘Dude. Normal people do not do that.’ ”
But, the big plays aren’t limited to offense. Egbuka shines everywhere.
“I like both sides of the ball,” he said. “I’ve been offered as ‘athlete.’ If they give me an opportunity to play the sport I love, I’m happy.”
Herd says, as an offensive coordinator, he would scheme against Egbuka if he had to play against him. He’d throw to the other side of the field, and try to avoid Egbuka getting the ball at all.
“From a defensive standpoint, he brings it,” Herd said. “He’s gotten a lot more physical this year. He comes downhill in the run game, he tackles running backs, he blows up receivers. He’s doing it all for us.”
Special teams, too. He has a combined 295 yards returning kicks and punts this season, and three touchdowns.
“He wants to do well on big stages, and the work and the way he prepares for the week allows him to do so,” Herd said.
Egbuka said, during unofficial visits to FSU and Washington, he has seen what successful college players look like. He looks up to players like FSU running back Cam Akers and UW safety Taylor Rapp. And he puts in the work, knowing one day he could be there, too.
“There’s no limit for him,” Herd said. “I think he can do whatever he wants to do. He’s going to have a lot of choices and a lot of decisions to make at the end, but it’s going to be a good thing.”