|Texans rookie Okoye bids farewell to teenage years|
|Written by Admin|
|Monday, 11 June 2007 12:24|
The Houston Texans rookie turned 20 on Sunday, but is certain that hitting the milestone won't stop the teasing about his age he gets from teammates.
``The joke is always going to be there and I don't think it's ever going to change,'' he said. ``It will probably be there until I have grandkids.''
When the Texans drafted Okoye with the 10th pick overall he became the youngest player taken in the first round since the merger in 1967. But being the youngest among his peers isn't anything new to the defensive tackle after he started high school at 12 and college at 16.
The teasing doesn't bother him, however it does get a bit monotonous.
``You hear it when you wake up and when you go to sleep. You might even hear it in your dreams,'' he said with a chuckle. ``It's everything and if there's a situation where they can throw it in, they throw it in real quick.''
Coach Gary Kubiak said as much as his players pick on Okoye, they're also very protective of him.
``I think they kind of look out for him because he is so young,'' Kubiak said. ``Hopefully they keep an eye on him in the right way.''
The Texans think Okoye will help improve a pass rush that ranked 27th in the NFL in sacks last season. Kubiak believes having a player with his quickness will help free up others on the line to make plays.
Last year's top overall pick Mario Williams, who's only 22 himself, has taken a particular interest in bringing the youngster along. He said the pair spend a lot of time together away from the game, but that their conversations often focus on football.
``Since he's so young, I tell him: 'You really have to be mentally tough,''' Williams said. ``'You can't get down on yourself if this stunt doesn't work out or maybe you got beat on this rep. You've just got to bounce back.'''
Williams shares tips for keeping calm when the coaches yell and often reminds the rookie that he's there to answer any questions he has. However, his interest in Okoye's development isn't completely altruistic.
``I'm glad that he was the first pick this year so that takes a little pressure off me,'' Williams said. ``I'm ready for it.''
Despite practicing with the team for about a month, Williams said Okoye's head is ``probably still spinning.'' But the player who got his college degree in 3 1/2 years said the transition has been easier because he's had support.
``It's been a lot of learning and there's been a lot thrown at us in a short period of time,'' he said. ``I think I've been blessed to be on such a great team where everybody's willing to give me a helping hand.''
Defensive coordinator Richard Smith is excited about the possibilities of molding such a young player. He's already been impressed by his quickness, leverage and most importantly, his confidence.
``He's got such a bright future,'' Smith said. ``He's already made it to the NFL at 19 and he's only going to get better. He's only going to get bigger. He's only going to get stronger. What that gives you is more longevity. Right now we really like what we see.''