With a sprinter's body and a quiet, unassuming demeanor, Amba Etta-Tawo didn't exactly look or act the part of a big-time wide receiver recruit when he began his varsity career two years ago.
"At first you looked at him, and he was not real impressive to look at," said Ken Hockman, wide receivers coach at McEachern High in Powder Springs, Ga. "He's kind of lean, but then you see him in the weight room, and he is really, really strong. Catching the ball, he really worked hard on his hands. He may have as good a [set of] hands as I have seen."
Midway through Etta-Tawo's sophomore season, Hockman – whose son Kyle is McEachern's head coach – knew he had a future Division I wide-out on his hands. Hockman's premonition was proven correct last week when Etta-Tawo committed to Maryland. He was also recruited by Illinois, Purdue, Southern Miss, South Florida and Virginia, among others.Hockman, set to begin his 47th year of coaching, had a blank canvas to work with when it came to harnessing Etta-Tawo's potential. The future Terp's speed – and seemingly effortless stride – was immediately put to good use at McEachern.
"He's got a real long stride," Hockman said. "He gets 10 yards in four strides, maybe four and a half strides. In five strides he's at 12 yards. It looks like he's barely running. On the [school's 4x100] relay team, he did really well. He runs the back straightaway and just passes everybody. On the deep routes, it's the same thing. If the ball's in the air, he takes four strides and he's left you. I don't care how good a defensive back you are – he just left you."
Etta-Tawo, now a 6-foot-3, 180-pound player, became a weight-room warrior, a sound route runner and a surprisingly physical blocker. Hockman said Etta-Tawo's improvement – in all facets of his game – over the past two seasons has been dramatic.
"He's kind of on a different level," Hockman said. "Amba runs a two-step slant – everyone else runs a four-step. He has really good body control and explosion. He really developed that part of his game and route running over the past couple years. His hands have become just exceptional. … [He's one of] the best blockers I've ever had. He just gets in there, holds up and stays on. He's powerful. He's a tough kid, and it's amazing what he does to people."
When it came to recruiting, Hockman said Etta-Tawo was extraordinarily thorough in doing his research. He consulted his brothers – one who played at Clemson and another who plays at West Georgia – and studied his options.
"[Some teammates said], 'Terps, what does that mean?' [I said], 'I don't know. It's turtle.' But he knew all about it," Hockman said. "[He knew that] the quarterback(Danny O'Brien) is young, and how many times he attempted it. [He knew Maryland lost] their top receiver (Torrey Smith). But he knew all that kind of stuff. He's very astute with things that way."
Etta-Tawo hasn't visited College Park yet, but Hockman said he's excited to eventually see what the campus has to offer. Hockman said Etta-Tawo plans to major in engineering, making Maryland the perfect fit for him academically and athletically.
"He really wanted it," Hockman said. "The new staff, with Randy Edsall, they really did a great job of recruiting him, telling him how he was going to fit in and how they're going to use him. [Wide receivers coach] Lee Hull did a real good job of communicating with Amba. … You're looking at a big 6-3, 180-pounder right now. He's a big, long drink of water. But he's tough."