Texas' Okafor looks to embark on NFL career

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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 CBSSports.com 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.”