One thing that’s always amazed me during my journalism career is how often you can unearth a Lowell connection to even the most major stories. Sure enough, Super Bowl LVIII (58 for you non-Romans) is no exception.
Lowell native and Lowell High graduate Sam Okuayinonu was signed to the San Francisco 49ers Practice Squad on January 10, 2024, just ten days before the Niners started their playoff run that now has them just a victory away from an NFL title. And despite the unlikelihood of Okuayinonu seeing the field tomorrow in anything but street clothes, or the fact he hasn’t played in a regular season or playoff game this season, if San Fran can beat the Chiefs in Las Vegas, the Mill City native will receive a Super Bowl ring commemorating the 49ers championship season.
Born in Liberia, Okuayinonu immigrated to Lowell with his mother when he was 12-years old. He played in a few games his Junior year but quit because he didn’t like the sport and was far more enamored with Soccer, the sport the rest of the world knows as Football. He gave the gridiron another try during his Senior year and began to develop a feel and love for the game, recording 17-tackles over the five games he played in. (click here to view Okuayinonu’s “hudl” profile, with photos and game videos from his playing days at Cawley Stadium)
After graduating LHS in 2016, Okuayinonu continued to develop his skills at the Junior College level, first at Coahoma Community College in Clarksdale, Mississipi and then at Mesabi Range College in Virginia, Minnesota, where he was named Defensive Player of the Year by the Minnesota College Athletic Conference in 2018. He transferred to Maryland and was a key cog in the Terrapins defense through 2022.
Despite going undrafted, Okuayinonu made it to the NFL as a Practice Squad player for Tennessee in 2022, eventually climbing his way onto the Titans 49-man roster and appearing in six regular season games. He recorded his first NFL sack in a 21-17 victory over the Washington Commanders on October 9, 2022. He was also credited with 11-tackles on the season.
The Titans cut Okuayinonu during training camp in 2023 and he stayed on the sidelines before the call came from the 49ers at the most opportune time for his potential jewelry collection.
Despite his football success, Okuayinonu has not forgotten the Mill City. He returns home on occasion, including taking in a Red Raiders football game last season and meeting with the team.
Joe Healy, who owns New England Strength and Performance on Middlesex Street in Lowell, tells InsideLowell he speaks with Okuayinonu “occasionally” and that he’ll “pop in” for a workout when in the area. Healy and his staff also trained him after he graduated high school and describes Okuayinonu as a “happy, go-lucky kid who was an absolute physical specimen even in high school, squatting over 600-pounds and benching 425lbs.”