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Houston Texans

Okoye driven by inner-selfishness


Okoye drives himself with a unique perspective.

Selfish is not a word you would use to describe Amobi Okoye.

The Texans first-round draft pick is a gracious, pleasant fellow who is engaging and considerate of others. The big defensive tackle has impressed coaches and media alike with his upbeat but humble personality and down-home sincerity.

But he says he has this inner-selfishness that keeps him going.

"I think everybody should have an inner selfishness in them," Okoye said after his second day of practice with the Texans in the off-season OTAs. "As long as you don't show it on the outside, it's what gets you going on the inside and gets you to be good."

Inner selfishness? It's a concept Okoye embraced early on in at the University of Louisville when some thought he was too young at 16, to be playing major college football.

"That's probably what has helped me, that inner selfishness," Okoye explained. "It's a belief that I could make it, that I was going to make it and be what I am expected to be."

The 6-2, 302-pound Okoye is a cerebral person, the son of a school principal mother. He has always been a top student and received a scholarship offer from Harvard out of high school, but wanted to play big-time football. It didn't stop him from being a deep thinker. He probably could be a psychological counselor.

"Inner selfishness is when you want to be the best inside," Okoye said. "You've got to believe you can be the best but at the same time you don't show it on the outside. It's a difference between having inner selfishness and outside selfishness. I developed that in college, especially in my junior year. It's something inside of you, a self-motivation, a self-confidence."

Despite being younger than most of his peers throughout his life, Okoye has never lacked for confidence. And he certainly isn't short of it coming into the Texans workouts.

"My confidence level is pretty high," Okoye said. "I felt like I had to have a lot of confidence to come in here and play. At the same time, I was a little wary of what it was going to be like. The first thing I noticed was the speed. But I'm adjusting to it."

Coach Gary Kubiak has noticed how quickly Okoye has adjusted.

"I like his smarts," Kubiak said. "We're doing a lot of things with him but he's a good kid. It's only two days but he's a smart young man and he believes in himself."

{QUOTE)Okoye was born in Anambra, Nigeria. He moved to the United States at the age of 12 and knew nothing about football when he took up the sport at age 13. But he immediately played on the varsity at Robert E. Lee High in Huntsville, Ala., then was the youngest athlete to appear in a collegiate game at age 16 at Louisville in 2003.

He's only 19 now, the youngest player in the NFL, and won't be 20 until next month. But age hasn't put him where he is today. Strength, speed and an amazing quickness has and Okoye wants to make sure he doesn't lose that off-the-line velocity that helped him record eight sacks and 15 tackles for loss last season despite playing an inside line position.

"I had a pretty good get-up in college," Okoye said. "A pretty good get-up-and-go to get off the ball. I just have to get that oiled back up and get it back elevated."

It has already been evident in practice.

"The thing I have noticed a lot is the pass-rush ability," Kubiak said. "That's why he was where he was in the draft. To find a guy who can rush the passer is hard to do."

Okoye considers himself fortunate to have played for Louisville coach Bobby Petrino, who has since gone on to become the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons. Okoye believes that has helped him catch on more quickly with the Texans.

"From the system I came from, coach Petrino coached an NFL style defense," Okoye said. "So things are not brand new to me here. They are second nature to me in a sense because I've been playing an NFL style defense.

"I think I'm definitely still learning but that has helped."

He also is getting plenty of help from the veterans, like the other two first-round picks in the defensive line, Mario Williams and Travis Johnson.

"That's one thing I like about the Texans," Okoye said. "There's no outside selfishness. Everybody is willing to help me. My teammates are always lending a helping hand. Nobody in particular, it's just about everybody."

In the end, of course, he must produce and as a first-round pick, he knows the spotlight will be on him.

"That definitely puts a lot of pressure on you," Okoye said. "But I'm used to that. My junior year at Louisville I was talking to one of the janitors at school and he said you have the pressure cooker on you now.

"I liked that. I like pressure. I like to know where I stand and what is expected of me."

EDITOR'S NOTE:* Jim Carley is a veteran Houston sportswriter who has covered the NFL for more than 25 years. He has worked for such newspapers as the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, The Houston Post, the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and the National Sports Daily covering such teams as the Dallas Cowboys, the Houston Oilers, the Los Angeles Rams and the Oakland Raiders.*

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