By Joseph Santoliquito
Philadelphia, PA (CBS) — He would wear this droopy expression around everywhere. His mom would ask him about “the new” school, and each time Olamide Zaccheaus would mumble something about being buried in homework. Or that he didn’t know anyone. He hated it so much he sat off by himself during summer camp, not participating in anything, not even the singing portion of the week.
See the 5-8, 165-pound sophomore tailback today and you can’t miss him. He’s grown to love the school he once detested—St. Joseph’s Prep—and those that have seen the Hawks this year are beginning to take increased interest in Zaccheaus.
Zaccheaus or OZ, as his teammates call him, is emerging as one of the stars at St. Joe’s, a young team that features a number of sophomores and juniors, including John Reid, one of the best sophomores in the country, and Jon Daniel Runyan, the son of former Eagle Jon Runyan.
The Hawks are 2-0 this season beating Florida power Cocoa Beach, 16-7, and then a very good Gonzaga team, 28-14, last week at Navy in the Patriot Classic. In both games Zaccheaus was electric, combining to rush for 132 yards on 17 carries and three catches for 65 yards.
Prep third-year coach Gabe Infante happened to see Zaccheaus at a grade school game a few years ago. Infante was introduced to Zaccheaus’ mother, Yimbra, who came to the United States from Nigeria. A few weeks later Yimbra, after doing some extensive research on the high-academic St. Joe’s Prep, contacted Infante about her son attended the school.
“I remember Olamide sitting with his mom in my office and he was open about it, he didn’t want to come here,” said Infante, laughing. “You could tell at the time he didn’t trust anyone other than his mom, even all the way up to summer camp, when he came with us his freshman year. But something happened there. He sat in the back of the room when the sophomores were doing their singing for the rest of the team. He didn’t want to be a part of anything.”
It took Olamide a year to adjust to Prep.
“I didn’t know anyone there, it was like I was told I had to go to this school, my mother made me go,” Olamide said. “I thought I’d be uncomfortable there. But it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. It was rough in the beginning until I met a lot of guys at Prep in the same situation as me. No, at first, I didn’t like it. My mom always asked me why I was sad all of the time. I had to get over myself.”
A year later, Zaccheaus’ silky running style and explosive speed is a leading reason why the Hawks are undefeated. OZ will surely be tested this Friday night when Prep plays North Penn, which just snapped Archbishop Wood’s 15-game winning streak last weekend.
“Olamide reminds me a lot of Tony Jones, who played for Don Bosco Prep and is at Colorado,” Infante said. “He’s really that good. His growth off the field has been incredible. He’s really grown and come out of his shell in a year. It makes coaching and everything we do here at Prep worthwhile.”
This year at Prep’s summer camp, someone took the stage to belt out a few tunes for his teammates at various octaves to the delight and laughter of his teammates.
It was OZ.
“Olamide was great, he had everyone laughing, and was part of everything,” Infante said. “He really is exceptional, he’s the best back I’ve ever coached, and he can make almost any play go. Against Cocoa, which was probably the fastest high school team I ever saw, Olamide was running away from them. He scored three touchdowns against St. Joe’s Regional in a scrimmage, and two were over 40 yards. He’s a pretty special kid, and I’m glad he adjusted.”
More than adjusted, Zaccheaus actually likes Prep.
“I feel like I belong, I consider Prep and our football team family, it’s all about love and trusting each other,” Zaccheaus said. “I didn’t say much my first month there. I like it now.”
Joseph Santoliquito is a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly.