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Former Texas defensive star Alex Okafor looks onto the field during the Longhorns' final regular season game against Kansas State. After a strong performance at the Texas Pro Day, Okafor waits to find out where he will be next year with the NFL Draft approaching.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

The path to Alex Okafor’s NFL career began with the sports dreams of a bumbling toddler. 

“Alex started playing sports when he was four, so every season since age four he’s been playing something,” Sonia Okafor, Alex’s mother, said at Texas’ Pro Day in March.  “Football, basketball, soccer.  He’s been doing this all his life.”

Sonia watched Alex’s drills from the bleachers, brimming with motherly pride and a bright smile.

“You just want your kids to do the best they can do,” she said. “I asked him last night and he said he felt really comfortable, he was prepared and pretty calm.”

Okafor will deal with another bout of nerves with the approaching NFL draft, which begins April 25 and runs through April 27. Draft analysts at predict Okafor to be selected as early as the second round, citing his strength and control of his hands and feet during plays as notable qualities.

The defensive end and Pflugerville native leapt onto the Texas scene and did not hesitate to exert his influence in his first year. With 14 starts as both a defensive end and on special teams, the stage was set for a fruitful career as a Longhorn. 

He continued to improve as a sophomore, appearing in all 12 games and starting eight times, nailing 30 tackles by the end of the season. With his junior year came 13 starts and a slew of awards, including a first team All-Big 12 selection by coaches and first team All-Big 12 by a variety of news outlets. 

In his final year at Texas, Okafor stirred up impressive numbers, topping the Big 12 in sacks per game and leading the team in sacks, quarterback pressures, forced fumbles and tackles for loss. But a right hip injury he sustained at the end of the season led to less playing time against Kansas State.

The injury in his right hip forced him to miss the NFL combine, which made his performance at Texas Pro Day even more important for his prospective professional career.

“I wanted to show that I was healthy,” Okafor said after Texas’ Pro Day. “It’s just all mental. If you have a bad time, you can’t let that affect your whole day.  You’ve just got to block things out.”

And while he was coy in discussing specifics, Okafor seemed confident about his prospects.

“I met a lot of teams during the combine, a few teams right before this event, and I have a couple more scheduled,” he said at Texas Pro Day. “I don’t want to discuss what teams I have lined up, but I have some good things coming along.”

Head coach Mack Brown said Okafor’s versatility makes him a key asset for an NFL team to pick up.

“Alex can change directions and I think that’s what makes him so valuable to an NFL team,” Brown said.    

For Okafor — who was born in Dallas, lived in Arlington, moved to Houston and then Pflugerville before attending college in Austin — a shot at an NFL career could mean moving beyond the borders of the Lone Star State. But Okafor isn’t worried about sacrificing barbecue and southern hospitality for the pursuit of his dreams.

“It’s exciting times, and I like to move around,” he said. “I love home but I’m embracing the opportunity to go somewhere else.”

Pflugerville ISD became the first school district in Texas to allow employees to add a domestic partner to their health care plan in December 2012. But that victory for LGBT Texans may be short-lived, thanks to a bill filed last Wednesday.

Texas State Rep. Drew Springer filed House Bill 1568, which would cut funding to Texas school districts providing domestic partner benefits by 7.5 percent. The bill, which has 22 co-authors, has generated significant support. Springer is confident that it “will definitely come to the floor for a vote.”

The bill is not just an attack on LGBT employees in school districts around Texas; it misconstrues the nature of Pflugerville ISD’s policy. As it stands, the PISD policy merely allows a non-dependent household member to be added to the insurance policy at no expense to taxpayers. Daniel Williams, legislative specialist for the LGBT lobbying group Equality Texas, said of the Pflugerville plan, “The premium, the deductible, it gets paid for not by the school, but by the employee or non-dependent household member.”

Springer’s rhetoric disregards the financial reality. He told the Texas Tribune, “I think the money we give to educate our kids should go to the kids and not trying to expand social benefits that we decided in 2005 was unconstitutional.” But PISD is not the only state entity with such a policy. Some cities, including Austin, also offer their employees domestic partner benefits. Instead, Springer’s argumentation has relied on a fallacious appeal to protecting the children in order to advance a thinly-disguised attack on LGBT Texans.

We stand with Pflugerville ISD. HB 1568 is a discriminatory threat to reaching full equality in the state of Texas.

Firefighters from the Coppell Fire Department, who traveled from the DFW area early Monday afternoon, help contain a brush fire around the property of Mount Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church in Cedar Creek, TX.

Photo Credit: Tamir Kalifa | Daily Texan Staff

Fires raged across Central Texas this weekend, affecting the Pflugerville, Bastrop County, Travis County and Hays County areas.

Austin mayor Lee Leffingwell said despite success in controlling fires in the greater Austin area, Bastrop County officials are still fighting to stop fires from spreading. The San Antonio Express-News reported 25,000 acres consumed by the Bastrop fires, with approximately 476 homes destroyed. Gov. Rick Perry returned from out-of-state campaigning for the presidency to address Bastrop citizens.

“[The fire] is not in the city of Austin,” Leffingwell said. “But we don’t work that way. We think of this area as a region, and we’re all in this together.”

Approximately 50 homes in Steiner Ranch have been damaged or destroyed, and Travis County Fire Chief Jim Linardos said residents are not allowed to return to the subdivision until at least Tuesday morning. Travis County police are asking residents to cooperate with possible road closures and detours and to stay away from restricted areas until they are notified of updates.

Linardos said at a press conference Monday that fire and rescue crews were able to keep fires around Lake Travis contained at 25 percent, and no fatalities have been recorded as of Monday. Officials were still working to contain an additional fire nearby in the Pedernales Bend area as of press time.

According to Reuters, 60 separate wildfires spread across the state Monday, killing two in northeast Texas.

Danny Hobby, executive manager of Travis County Emergency Operations, said agencies and fire crews from across Texas are working to help victims in addition to stopping the fires. Hobby said he is glad Texans can come together in this time of need.

Travis County officials set up an overnight shelter at Vandegrift High School to provide solace for residents escaping fires around the Steiner Ranch subdivision. Members of St. Luke’s on the Lake Episcopal Church set up an additional “safe place” on church property across from Steiner Ranch.

“This is just what our church does,” said parish leader Allen Griswold. “When we heard about the fires we started getting our stuff together, and within three hours we had people showing up with food and water. We’re continually feeding people from Steiner Ranch and doing what we can to help.”

Griswold said the church serves as a meeting place where people come to exchange knowledge of the situation, as well as to rest and rehydrate.

Linardos said people are the source for 90 percent of fires, and he urges citizens to do what they can to prevent the possibility of more disasters.

“Your fire resources in this area are stretched thin,” Linardos said. “Don’t test them.”

Printed on September 6, 2011 as: Fires spark tragedy