In an interview with Orangebloods.com, Brian Orakpo acknowledged he got questions about the so-called "Texas factor" leading up to the draft. He was also quick to point out: "But they didn't see it in me."
In the days leading up to his selection by the Washington Redskins with the 13th overall pick last weekend, Orakpo became the focal point of claims by ESPN draft analysts Todd McShay and Mel Kiper that Orakpo could slip because of the "Texas factor" – i.e. the thought from some NFL personnel that Texas players are soft.
"It's funny," Orakpo said. "I really didn't have too much conversation about being soft and the reputation. Every now and then someone would say, 'There's a thing about Texas players.' But they didn't see it in me.
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"With the way I play and the intensity I bring. That's why I was so highly rated. I got to take it and live with it. That is the reputation, and all I can do is try and break that mold and prepare other guys for what they are getting into in the future."
WHY THE 'TEXAS FACTOR?'
But why? Why do Texas players continue to carry this reputation in the NFL. It's not new. It's been around the last decade. And as Geoff Ketchum pointed out in his study, Texas players from 2000-2006 have had more productive and lengthy NFL careers than players from Oklahoma, LSU and USC.
"I don't know," Orakpo said. "Maybe because we graduate guys and do things the right way. Maybe they think that is soft. When you do things the right way, sometimes it comes off as soft football players. I don't know. But it's just that perception. We have to live with it and just keep winning ballgames. I know Texas is going to continue to win ballgames without me, and I have to further my career and get better as a football player with the Redskins."
Orakpo said before the draft he felt like he'd either end up in Kansas City at No. 3, Cleveland at No. 5, Green Bay at No. 9, Denver at No. 12, Washington at No. 13 or Houston at No. 15. If he had been drafted by any of the teams other than Washington, he'd be an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, having to learn a new position and probably feeling a ton of pressure.
Instead, he becomes a Redskin and gets to play his natural position, a 4-3 defensive end, and will get to line up next to arguably the best player in football last year – tackle Albert Haynesworth.
Oh, and Orakpo will probably sign a five-year, $23 million deal with between $11 million and $13 million guaranteed.
"Anyone coming in my situation would love to have the best defensive tackle in the game right beside you," Orakpo said. "It makes everybody's job a lot easier. It leaves me free and the other defensive ends free to do what they do and that is get on the edge and leverage their way to the quarterback."
Orakpo has seen players like Roy Williams, Mike Williams and Michael Huff go in the top ten of the draft and end up with sad-sack franchises. He knows the Redskins defense was the strength of a team that finished 8-8 and limped home by going 1-4 in their last five games.
"I think it's really going to benefit me because we have Albert Haynesworth, London Fletcher, LaRon Landry," Orakpo said. "I could name them all. These guys were the No. 4 defense in the NFL last year, and I'm just another piece that can come in and help.
"It will take a lot of pressure off me. I can come in and compete and try to get better as a complete football player and do what I do best - that's get after the quarterback and stopping the run and doing everything necessary to be a complete football player."
REDSKINS NEED A PASS RUSH
The Redskins are desperate for a pass rush after cutting Jason Taylor (whom they acquired last year from Miami for this year's second-round pick – Miami used that pick to take Pat White). Washington's best veteran end is Andre Carter, a nine-year vet out of Cal, who is coming off his worst full season in the NFL (4 sacks).
The Redskins, however, were fourth in the NFL in total defense (288.8 ppg) and sixth in scoring defense (18.5 ppg) and have signed cornerback DeAngelo Hall to a long-term deal. The Redskins have also recently signed former Longhorn offensive linemen Derrick Dockery and Mike Williams.
Orakpo will be counted on to get to NFC East quarterbacks Donovan McNabb, Eli Manning and Tony Romo if the Redskins are going to have any hope of winning the division or making the playoffs.
"Obviously, this is a tough division, if not the toughest," Orakpo said. "We're going to be facing great quarterbacks every game. I'm just looking forward to the opportunity. I used to always say it would be a great opportunity to be in these type of games. I'm excited. The Redskins are excited. Getting after these quarterbacks is going to be a great task, but I'm up for it."
So how do you stay grounded and hungry when you've just come into $11 million to $13 million in guaranteed money?
"The way I stay humble and grounded is stay around successful and positive people," Orakpo said. "That's something I've acknowledged throughout my life. Negative people and being around people who bring you down is a cancer. My family is very positive.
"I have a lot of positive teammates and friends. And when I was visiting the Redskins, they have a lot of positive guys and people who want to be successful. I think that's one of the keys – surrounding yourself with people who want to be successful and know how to handle the money, the limelight and know how to be good people."
NEW BEST FRIEND
Orakpo and Baylor left tackle Jason Smith signed with the same agency – CAA. They trained for the draft together in Phoenix at the Athletic Performance Institute. They've become good friends.
Smith said he thinks Orakpo was the best defensive player in the draft and playfully put Orakpo's rookie sack total at 20. The two will go head-to-head in the second week of the season, when the Redskins travel to St. Louis.
They didn't get to face each other last season because Orakpo was out with a knee injury. Smith ended up giving Sergio Kindle fits.
"Orakpo is a hard worker," Smith said. "That's what I like about the guy. He's not going to settle for being in the NFL. He's going to work until he's made a name for himself."
Orakpo has said his work ethic comes from his parents, who were children in Nigeria, where they had nothing and had to get their own water every day. They moved to Houston, where Brian was born. When I asked him what it would take to be successful in the NFL, Orakpo didn't hesitate.
"I know it sounds cliché, but it's all about believing in yourself and the hard work you put in," Orakpo said. "You can't have any thoughts like, 'Now I'm in the NFL, it's time to relax.' The work is just beginning. That's how I feel.
"The journey is just beginning for the next phase of my life, my career. I'm one step closer. I'm just going to go in ready to work harder than I've ever worked before to be a complete football player. I'm going to study as much as I can in the offseason, watch as much film as I can and just try to be successful – help the team win more ballgames."