Xavier Nwankpa, a sophomore with Iowa State and Iowa offers, is loaded with potential
Brad Zelenovich laughs when Xavier Nwankpa gets brought up.
With a kid as athletic as he is ... with someone who can change the game so much at such a young age ... laughing is really all you can do.
"He’s a different dude," said Zelenovich, the head football coach at Southeast Polk.
The difference was apparent last Friday night. Nwankpa, a sophomore safety for the Rams, logged multiple pass break-ups, cracked tackles, made a 42-yard pick-six and broke off a 25-yard Wildcat touchdown run in Southeast Polk's 38-0 win over Des Moines Roosevelt.
According to QuikStats, he's up to 41.5 tackles and two interceptions — both returned for scores — this season.
Already checking in at 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds, Nwankpa boasts a rare size and speed combination and projects as one of the Midwest's more promising 2022 prospects.
Translation? He's the type of kid coaches see and think: Wait. He's only a sophomore?
Nebraska and Iowa State offered last July. Iowa just offered Oct. 12. Notre Dame is also showing interest, and Nwankpa told the Register he plans to visit South Bend, Indiana, for the Fighting Irish's Nov. 16 game against Navy.
"He’s got a chance to be really special," Zelenovich said.
The Register was on hand for Nwankpa's performance against Roosevelt. Here's a brief scouting report from what we saw:
Nwankpa can change the game in a heartbeat. It happened quickly against Roosevelt, when he snared a tipped pass for an interception and blew past the defense for the 42-yard return in the first quarter. He showed his lightning-rod capability again later in the first half on his 25-yard touchdown run. He made three defenders miss with two sharp cuts and sprinted untouched into the end zone.
That speed is especially valuable as a safety. If a Roosevelt pass floated — even a bit — Nwankpa was there to disrupt it. He took good angles and just had a knack for being in the receiver's face at the right time. Even on one particular play, when he misread a route and the receiver got past him, Nwankpa was able to recover, catch up and break up the deep pass attempt.
He can do more than break up passes, too. Nwankpa delivered the hardest hit of the night. He recorded a sack as a blitzer off the edge. He read run plays well. The scary thing is that, as Nwankpa gets older and more physically mature, he'll only improve.
Matthew Bain covers recruiting, Iowa/Iowa State athletics and Drake basketball for the Des Moines Register and USA TODAY Network. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.
Your subscription makes work like this possible. Join today at DesMoinesRegister.com/Deal.