Standing in the south end zone of Kuempel Stadium in Pflugerville on Saturday afternoon, former Texas defensive end Alex Okafor found himself fulfilling a dream.
This field was like a Broadway stage back in the day for Okafor, who starred for Pflugerville High School and was an All-American in 2008. But on Saturday, it was the setting for Okafor’s inaugural youth football camp, which drew over 200 grade school athletes from the surrounding area.
“I’ve always wanted to do (a camp),” Okafor said. “It’s always been an aspiration of mine. We’re gonna make it an annual thing so we can definitely grow.”
As Okafor led drills in the end zone for defensive linemen along with former Longhorn and current Tennessee Titans linebacker Brian Orakpo, the sweltering Texas heat beat down on the turf.
“OK, get some water,” Okafor said to campers as the drill concluded.
The players trotted over to the water cooler while Okafor, Orakpo and some of the camp coaches huddled together on the scorching turf.
“Wish we were on grass,” one coach said, sparking plenty of laughter amongst the colleagues.
But despite the near-100-degree temperatures on Saturday, Okafor was still able to from bring in plenty of star power to assist with the camp. Numerous former Texas teammates and current NFL players were in attendance, as along with Orakpo, former Longhorns Quandre Diggs, Emmanuel Acho, Keenan Robinson, Mykkele Thompson and Jeremy Hills helped campers through drills.
“A lot of people not as close as we are,” Diggs said. “We’re all Texas guys. We love being around each other. Alex is like a bigger brother to me because when I came (to Texas), it was him and Kenny (Vaccaro) that looked after me.”
Okafor was a three-year starter for the burnt orange and a two-time first team All-Big 12 selection. As a senior, Okafor led the Big 12 in sacks with 12.5. His most memorable moment came in the last game of his career when the Longhorns beat Oregon State 31-27 in the 2012 Valero Alamo Bowl. Okafor dominated the game and was named the defensive MVP after tallying eight tackles and 4.5 sacks.
He was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in the fourth round in 2013. And through four seasons with the Cardinals, Okafor started 25 games and recorded 13.5 sacks. However, a rash of injuries has limited his ability to be an impact player from August through January each year. Okafor signed with the New Orleans Saints in the offseason and is now ready for a fresh start.
“I think they say the average lifespan in the NFL is two-and-a-half years, so to think I’ve almost doubled that is amazing within itself,” Okafor said. “But the crazy part is I still have a lot of ball left in me. I’m just getting started, and I’m excited for what’s to come.”
His high school coach, George Herrmann, still recalls his early days of coaching Okafor at Pflugerville.
“When he was younger, he was really quiet, and you didn’t really notice him,” Herrmann said. “He was always practicing hard, always playing hard. You couldn’t ever fault his effort.”
Now primed for his fifth season in the NFL, Okafor’s next goal is to stay healthy and help the Saints get back to the playoffs. And as for becoming an elite pass rusher, he believes he’s on the cusp of achieving his full potential.
“I think I’m close,” Okafor said. “I’ve been knocking at the door. I just got to stay healthy. That’s been one of my biggest knocks. If I can put together 16 games this year, I think it’ll be a special season for me.”