Okoye's Azusa Pacific Record Nice but Raphael Wants to Win

It's hallowed ground under discussion at Azusa Pacific, which is not too surprising, since the school is a Christian university. But it's football they are talking about.

Mention football at Azusa Pacific and you almost have to mention former running back Christian Okoye.

But word this year is, Cougar tailback Elijah Raphael is going to break some of Okoye's records--his season rushing yardage mark in particular.

Are people allowed to say such things?

Apparently so, but only with due reverence.

"Christian wears the football halo around this place," Coach Vic Shealy acknowledges. "But I think Elijah--not in a negative way--wants to be compared to him."

Raphael starred at Granada Hills Kennedy High, went to Washington State and started as a redshirt freshman, but had disagreements with the coaching staff and sat out a season before moving on to Valley College in 1995. After a good season there, he decided to transfer to Azusa Pacific, in part because he would be able to play two seasons.

At Azusa Pacific last year, Raphael averaged 133 yards a game, finishing fifth in the NAIA and earning All-American honorable mention.

Okoye's school record for a season is 1,680 yards, but Raphael says his goal is 2,000 yards.

Then he laughs, and adds, "But I like to set my goals out of reach."

With "only" 92 yards in Azusa Pacific's 25-15 loss to San Diego last week, he may be right. But Raphael played with a sprained ankle and then sprained his knee in the first quarter. He is listed as questionable for Saturday's game against Hardin-Simmons of Texas, but Shealy expects him to play.

To Raphael, who had six 100-yard games in Azusa Pacific's final seven games last season, a slow start doesn't matter much.

"I'm not really concerned about breaking records. To get 2,000 or to break Christian Okoye's record would be nice but I would rather win games," he said. "If we do our job and win games, the rest will take care of itself."

Although Azusa Pacific has its best team in years, it also has its toughest schedule in years.

Hardin-Simmons has been an NAIA quarterfinalist the last two seasons, Cal State Northridge is coming into its own as a Division I-AA school, and Central Washington won the NAIA championship two years ago.

Two of those games were scheduled after Cal Lutheran and Redlands asked to be released from Azusa Pacific's schedule. Division III NCAA schools, Cal Lutheran and Redlands do not have scholarship players. Azusa Pacific does.

"It's a shame, because they are two of our oldest rivals," Shealy said. "But hopefully we will play them again next year."


In the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, it appears that Redlands and La Verne will battle again.

In last season's finale, Redlands ended La Verne's 25-game winning streak, claiming the conference title in overtime.

Redlands will move star receiver Damian Delfino from wide receiver to quarterback in its West Coast offense. Delfino set a school record with 60 catches last season, but Coach Mike Maynard decided he needed his most talented player at the most important position.

La Verne has 11 starters back from last season but must replace star running back Anthony Rice, who led the conference with 1,465 yards last season.

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