Eagles feature

Five-star recruit, military family and a mission trip: Fun facts about Eagles rookie class

Taking a closer look at every member of the Eagles' 2023 rookie class

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As we wait for the Eagles to report for training camp in late July, it’s a good time to learn a bit more about the rookie class of 2023.

The Eagles drafted seven players and then signed nine more players after the draft concluded. Some of these players have really interesting backstories.

Many of the following facts were found in college bios, news stories and press conferences this spring.

Let’s meet every member of the Eagles’ rookie class:

1-9: Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia

Carter was a star football player at Apopka High School in Florida but played mostly on offense as a lead blocker in his first three seasons before flipping to defense. But Carter was also a really impressive basketball player.

Carter was known for his windmill dunk and even tried one in his game of H-O-R-S-E against Nick Sirianni during his pre-draft visit.

In high school, Carter was coached for a bit by former NBA star Jason Williams, aka White Chocolate.

“How you know that? That’s crazy,” Carter said at rookie camp. “He was a good coach. He’s a very cool guy, fun guy. I’m still cool with his son, still talk to him. But he’s a very cool coach.”

1-30: Nolan Smith, Edge, Georgia

Carter’s Georgia teammate is from Savannah, Georgia, and played high school football at Calvary Day School in Savannah before transferring to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, for his senior year. It wasn’t an easy decision for him at the time.

“The real reason was just to bet on myself and to better myself,” Smith said shortly after the Eagles drafted him. “We have Big 8A schools in Savannah, but they don't really take football as serious as I wanted to so I just wanted to bet on myself and go better myself.”

Smith came out of IMG Academy as a five-star prospect and ranked among the top five overall prospects in the country by several major publications.

3-65: Tyler Steen, OG, Alabama

Steen comes from a military family. Steen’s father, Daris Steen, was a marine. And Steen’s maternal grandfather, Rodney Maxwell Davis, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his service during the Vietnam War. Steen’s mother, Samantha, was just over a year old when her father was killed in action in Vietnam in 1967.

Davis heroically jumped on a live enemy grenade “absorbing with his body the full and terrific force of the explosion.” Sgt. Davis gave his life to protect others.

The USS Rodney M. Davis was commissioned on May 9, 1987, becoming the first Navy ship to be commission in honor of a Black Medal of Honor recipient. The ship was decommissioned in 2015.

3-66: Sydney Brown, S, Illinois

Brown has an incredible story that was documented in an NFL 360 feature that Nick Sirianni showed to the Eagles’ coaching staff.

Sydney Brown and his twin brother Chase Brown grew up in Ontario, Canada, without much money. They were hockey fans but their single mother couldn’t afford hockey, so the boys played football and were quite good at it. They eventually transferred to St. Stephen’s Episcopal School in Bradenton, Florida, and lived with a host family. They became stars at Illinois.

4-105: Kelee Ringo, CB, Georgia

Ringo first met former NFL Pro Bowl cornerback Richard Sherman in 2020 when Ringo was still just a high school prospect. When COVID-19 canceled OTAs in 2020, Sherman and several Seattle-based pros worked out together in Washington and Ringo joined them, according to USA Today Sports. Sherman was impressed them by Ringo, who then went on to be a star at Georgia.

During the pre-draft process, Sherman and Ringo would get together about twice per week and Sherman helped him prepare. Shortly after Ringo was drafted, he was asked about what he gained from his relationship with Sherman.

“First, growing into a great young man that I am today, the past couple months here and also even the year of me and him just bouncing ideas off each other, just him showing me the ropes, just financial things as well as on the field, seeing concepts, things like that,” Ringo said. “Really just growing into a young man that's going to have a lot more expectations to him as well as with just a lot of things on my plate overall, just how I'm able to balance that. I feel like having somebody that's been through that at the highest level with any type of given situation towards him and just giving all that back to me, I'm definitely thankful for somebody like that for sure. He's definitely helped me grow a lot.”

6-188: Tanner McKee, QB, Stanford

McKee is a member of the Church of Latter-day Saints and spent two years on a missionary trip to Brazil after graduating high school and committing to Stanford. He missed two full college seasons before returning to the United States in 2020. He became the starter at Stanford in 2021 and even though he skipped his final two years of eligibility, McKee is already 23. McKee thinks his time in Brazil helped him grow as a person and a leader:

“It was, overall, a great experience, a lot of things I got to learn from,” he said. “I would say the biggest thing for me in being a quarterback was just being able to take people from different backgrounds and different cultures and bringing them together for one common purpose, and that's a lot of what you have to do as a quarterback. You're in the locker room, whether that's college or the NFL, with a bunch of guys that come from different backgrounds and have different cultures, and you have to bring them together to go out and fight as one.

“I felt like that was something that I got to work on on my mission and can ultimately help me become a better leader and a better teammate, just as I step in the locker room.”

7-249: Moro Ojomo, DT, Texas

Ojomo was just 16 when he enrolled at the University of Texas. But it was never that weird to him. Ojomo grew up in Lagos, Nigeria, until he was 8. Then his family moved to California. But back in Nigeria, Ojomo started kindergarten when he was just 3, so he stayed ahead of grades when he got to the United States. After Ojomo’s family moved to California, they eventually moved to Texas, settling in a Houston suburb, where Ojomo went to Katy High School. 

Even after redshirting in 2018 and then playing four seasons for the Longhorns, Ojomo is still just 21 years old and one of the youngest players on the entire Eagles roster.

UDFA: Mekhi Garner, CB, LSU

While Garner ended up at LSU for his final college season in 2022, he worked his way up to the SEC. The Mesquite, Texas, native went the JUCO route, beginning his college career at Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas. After leaving Navarro, Garner spent three seasons at Louisiana as a two-year starter in the Sun Belt Conference.

UDFA: Jadon Haselwood, WR, Arkansas

While Haselwood finished off his college career at Arkansas, he spent his first three seasons at Oklahoma. In 2019, Jalen Hurts’ only year with the Sooners, Haselwood as a freshman caught 19 passes for 272 yards and a touchdown. While Haselwood’s college career wasn’t as great as expected, he was a five-star recruit out of Atlanta in 2019. He was the top-rated receiver in the country in the 2019 class and the No. 1 recruit out of the state of Georgia. In fact, Rivals had Haselwood as the No. 4 overall recruit in the country behind just Nolan Smith, Kayvon Thibodeaux and Derek Stingley Jr., according to USA Today’s composite rankings. Those other three players were first-round picks.

UDFA: Joseph Ngata, WR, Clemson

During the summer before the 2022 season, Ngata organized a youth scavenger hunt for kids around Clemson. He and some teammates put tougher six swag bags that were hidden around campus and gave the kids clues to find them.

“I have a passion for helping kids and helping develop them, and I believe if you show kindness and love, it can start a ripple effect in this world,” Ngata said in a story that appeared in a Clemson football game book. “If you inspire one kid, then they can inspire someone else, and so on. That was on my heart, and I believe it was the best thing to do at the moment.”

UDFA: Chim Okorafor, OT, Benedictine

Okorafor bounced around plenty during his college career. He played basketball for two seasons at Cal Poly Pomona before playing football at Riverside City College in 2019. In 2020, he played a COVID-shortened season at Missouri Southern before going to Pittsburgh State in 2021. In 2022, he played just one season at Benedictine and was named an NAIA All-America selection. At 6-6, 315, Okorafor has NFL size but an unusual background. Okorafor was taken by the Michigan Panthers in the USFL draft but signed as a UDFA with the Eagles after going drafted.

What kind of player is Okorafor?

“First thing that stands out is my size,” he said to NFL Draft Diamonds. “I have D1 size but took an unorthodox path. My footwork and ability to get to the second level when run blocking and pulling. Also my ability to read defensive fronts and identify the biggest threat.”

UDFA: Trevor Reid, OT, Louisville 

Reid was a two-year starter at Louisville but began his college career at Georgia Military College. He’s still listed on their website at 6-4, 245 pounds. Now, Reid is 6-4, 311 and one of the more athletic offensive linemen in this year’s class. Here’s a look at some of his numbers from the Louisville pro day and where they’d rank among offensive linemen who were invited to the Combine:

40-yard dash: 5.00s (6th)
Vertical jump: 38” (1st)
Broad: 10’4” (1st)
3-cone: 7.34 (3rd)
Bench press: 25 (t-16th)

UDFA: Eli Ricks, CB, Alabama

After two seasons at LSU, Ricks transferred to Alabama for the 2022 season, missed some time with injury and started in just five games. Had he stayed healthy in 2022, he might have been drafted and perhaps really high. Ricks’ best season came as a freshman at LSU. He had four interceptions that season. The next year he suffered an injury, cutting his sophomore season short. But he was still a hot name and many thought he was set to be a very high draft pick. 

In many way-too-early mock drafts, he was considered a first-round pick. ESPN’s Todd McShay had Ricks at No. 10, USA Today’s Luke Easterling had him at 12, the Draft Network’s Joe Marino had him at 19 and PFF’s Michael Renner had him at 24. Sometimes these way-too-early mocks are way off and that was the case with Ricks. But it’s also the reason why some folks think the Eagles might have gotten a quality player after the end of the draft. 

UDFA: Brady Russell, TE, Colorado

Russell had a solid career at Colorado with 67 catches, 709 yards and 3 touchdowns. And the Eagles know him pretty well. Russell is the nephew of Matt Russell, who works in the front office as a Senior Personnel Director/Advisor to the General Manager. Matt Russell was a scout for the Eagles before joining the Broncos in 2009 and rising to the level of VP of Player Personnel by 2020. Matt Russell re-joined the Eagles in 2022.

UDFA: Ben VanSumeren, LB, Michigan State

VanSumeren is a freaky athlete. He wasn’t invited to the combine but absolutely crushed at the Michigan State pro day. But VanSumeren is extremely raw as a defensive player. He began his college career at Michigan as a fullback and didn’t move to linebacker until the 2020 season. He transferred to Michigan State in 2021 but didn’t become a starter until 2022. In 2019 at Michigan, VanSumeren carried the ball nine times for 20 yards and scored a touchdown.

UDFA: Ty Zentner, P, Kanas State

While Zentner became a really good punter and field goal kicker at Kanas State, he didn’t start playing football until a little later than most. Zentner played just one year of high school football as a senior. Before then, he was a soccer goalkeeper and, according to this KSNT story, was looking into playing soccer at the collegiate level. In fact, he kept turning down offers to play high school football because he didn’t want it to interfere with his football career. Eventually, he was persuaded to play. He then spent two seasons at Butler Community College in Kansas before heading to Kansas State in 2019.

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