Onakpoma leaves mark on SCSU track dynasty

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By Ken Morse, Citizen’s News

Southern Connecticut State University’s Fejiro Onakpoma, of Naugatuck, competes in the triple jump at the NCAA Division II outdoor track and field championships May 29 at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich. Onakpoma finished second. -JORDAN MENARD/UNIVERSITY OF INDIANAPOLIS

Fejiro Onakpoma finished his track and field career at Southern Connecticut State University in grand fashion.

Onakpoma, a Naugatuck High graduate, placed second in the triple jump at the NCAA Division II outdoor track and field championships May 29 at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich.

Onakpoma’s jump of 15.68 meters set a new Southern Connecticut record and was just 3.5 inches off the winning jump of Benedict College’s Shemar Miller.

“I had the lead at first and when I made the record-breaking jump in my final collegiate competition, it was just so emotional,” Onakpoma said.

Fejiro finished an outstanding collegiate career as a four-time All-American. He was named the Northeast 10 Conference Field Athlete of the Year in indoor and outdoor track in 2019. That same year, he earned East Region Field Athlete of the Year honors from the U.S. Track and Field Coaches Association.

Not bad for someone who took up track six years ago at Naugatuck High as a way to stay in shape for basketball.

In 2015, Onakpoma helped the Naugatuck basketball team reach its first state championship appearance since 1974. He earned All-Iron honors on the hardwood the following year, leading the Greyhounds in scoring at 15.5 points per game.

Onakpoma joined the track team his junior year to keep in shape for basketball.

“I really wanted to play basketball in college,” Fejiro said. “But I wanted to stay in shape in between seasons and (track) coach (Ralph) Roper was my guy, so I went out for track.”

Not really knowing where he fit in, Roper tried Onakpoma in several events before they settled on the triple jump. The athlete with aspirations of playing college basketball took the track by storm.

By the time he graduated, Onakpoma was an All-New England, State Open, Class L and NVL champion in the triple jump.

“Matt Basile put in so much overtime working with me, and I am forever grateful for all the coaches who have helped me to become the best athlete that I could be,” Onakpoma said.

Onakpoma’s success continued at Southern.

“In the time I’ve been here we won four NE10 championships in indoors and four more in outdoors, along with two New England championships,” Onakpoma said. “It’s like we haven’t lost since I’ve been here. I would advise anyone who wants to run track to come to SCSU if they want to succeed.”

Onakpoma’s individual success didn’t come immediately at Southern. Onakpoma said he struggled his freshman season.

“In my sophomore year I got a new jumping coach, Joe Caraciolo, and have qualified for the nationals ever since,” he said. “He broke down my jumps and has been a big brother and mentor to me.”

It takes a lot of hard work and patience to achieve that kind of success at the collegiate level. Onakpoma was quick to point out that trusting in the process and coaches as well as believing in yourself is key to be successful.

“The difference between high school and college is like night and day,” he said. “The college practices are intense. The energy and the whole environment trains your mind to be at this next level.”

Onakpoma plans to take some time off from school before pursuing a master’s degree in exercise science. He plans to find a job in the field, and continue to train and compete in U.S. competitions.

“The thing I will miss the most is the brotherhood of being an Owl in one of the most successful programs around,” he said. “I feel I have left my mark. Eight titles in four years is not something that happens very often, and I have been blessed to be part of that dynasty.”