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|Go, Okoye, Go - by kimba(m): 4:35pm On Jan 28, 2007|
19-year-old Okoye poised to join NFL[center][/center]
By JOHN ZENOR<, AP Sports Writer
January 24, 2007
MOBILE, Ala. (AP) -- Louisville defensive tackle Amobi Okoye wants to be a top 5 pick in the upcoming NFL draft, help his team to the Super Bowl as a rookie and do a good job managing all that money.
Being able to legally grab a beer with his teammates will have to wait a couple of years.
The 19-year-old Okoye will become the youngest player to compete in the Senior Bowl, a showcase for senior NFL prospects set for Saturday.
"This is where I'm supposed to be," he said. "It's nothing new to me."
Besides, Okoye is hardly an unproven commodity. He signed with Louisville's Bobby Petrino as a 15-year-old in Huntsville, Ala., and grew into a muscular 6-foot-2, 312 pounds.
His resume reads more like a high-tech prodigy than a football player: College at 16. Degree in 3 1/2 years. Job interviews with a couple of dozen prospective employers.
He started school at age 2 1/2 , skipped sixth grade and entered high school in Huntsville at 12 after his family moved from Nigeria.
And now on to the NFL, where he'll be facing offensive linemen who were playing high school ball before he was born.
"I'm ready for it," said Okoye, a second-team AP All-American. "It's going to be a challenge. Every time a challenge has been put before me, I've always been ready to accept the challenge and just go out there and do the best I can do.
"It's a lot of money for a 19-year-old. But that was my whole motivation last year. I wanted to be a 19-year-old millionaire. Hopefully I'll be that."
Okoye is projected as a likely first-round pick, and some NFL mock drafts have him going in the top 10.
It only took one Senior Bowl practice for Okoye to make an impression on North coach Jon Gruden.
"It's really unbelievable. He went out there and was knocking people around. He didn't look like he was 19," said Gruden, coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. "I've just got a tremendous amount of respect for him and how he's been raised. He's obviously a very smart guy to accelerate his academics the way he has. He may be young, but he is not lacking any physical attributes at this point."
Even with his hat turned backward and a somewhat skimpy goatee, the massive Okoye doesn't look 19. But given his age, teams are also going to gauge his mental maturity along with those physical skills.
"When you look at the tape, the guy's an explosive football player," Gruden said. "He really has a chance to play. You just worry about what he's going to do at night, 10 o'clock with no bed check. That's what I worry about with a 19-year-old kid. I worry about that more than anything else."
Teenagers with fat paychecks have been far more common in the NBA and pro baseball.
Okoye, however, points out a significant difference. Those guys either are fresh out of high school or have minimal college experience. He has been playing college ball since his first year out of high school and has a degree in psychology.
"I think college is something everybody should go through," Okoye said. "I learned a lot in college. I learned a lot about life, and I grew."
"He's very mature," said running back Kolby Smith, a Louisville and Senior Bowl teammate. "He's aware of everything that's going on around him. Like they say, he's wise beyond his years."
Okoye has big ambitions. He's "shooting for the first five" draft picks. He would love to follow in the New Orleans Saints' Reggie Bush's footsteps and play for a winning team as a rookie.
"I'm sure he definitely enjoyed his first year going to the NFC championship game," Okoye said. "Maybe I can do something like that and maybe go even further than that, to the Super Bowl."
He's used to people wondering if he'll be able to handle a big leap in competition and pressures at such a young age.
Okoye said that when Petrino was asked about his youngest signee four years ago, the coach "said he was going to wait until I started shaving before he played me.
"I went out there and showed him my capabilities and my talent, and he told them he went out and bought me a razor."
He played in all 13 games as a freshman. But he also showed glimpses of his potential upside with a breakout senior season.
Okoye had 23 tackles and half a sack as a junior. Those numbers jumped to 55 and eight last season, earning him unanimous selection as first-team All-Big East Conference.
Okoye wouldn't mind rejoining Petrino and position coach Kevin Wolthausen, both now with the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons have the 10th overall pick.
"(Petrino) helped me out with a lot of things and I helped him out with a lot of things," Okoye said. "I think we have a pretty good relationship. My old position coach is here, too. I saw him this week.
"Seeing him kind of brought a smile to my face."
Updated on Wednesday, Jan 24, 2007 3:12 pm EST
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