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Okoye not getting complacent


Rookie Amobi Okoye isn't settling after his two-sack game at Carolina.

Amobi Okoye is a quick learner.

He came to Huntsville, Ala. from Nigeria with his family as a wide-eyed 12-year old and was placed in middle school. He tested directly to the ninth grade and the following year took up football, a sport he knew nothing about.

Okoye quickly picked up enough to become an all-state offensive and defensive lineman. He then became the youngest NCAA Division I college player for the Louisville Cardinals at 16.

"Ever since I was born, I've been advanced in what I've done,'' Okoye said. "I guess that's due to my parents. It's just the way things always have been. When I got here (United States) they kind of wanted to push me back."

Okoye didn't allow a new country or a different culture to slow him down. He pushed ahead into high school, and did the same in college.

He got his degree in psychology in three years and became the Texans' 10th pick in the first round of the 2007 draft. Again, he became the youngest player in his league and was the youngest player in the NFL at 20.

He's still moving fast.

{QUOTE}"Some guys grasp things differently from others," defensive line coach Jethro Franklin said. "He's picked up things nicely. We're still learning and picking up things we need to do in order to win, but he's done a nice job."

Okoye has been a starter since preseason and, in his second regular season game, he got his first two pro sacks to go with four tackles against the Carolina Panthers.

"He's very alert, very cerebral and tries to get a good feel for what he's trying to accomplish," Franklin said.

Okoye's family moved to the U.S seeking better opportunities. For Okoye, football turned out to be one of those opportunities. He switched his major at Louisville from biology to psychology to help plan his football future.

"It was hard to balance biology with football and I figured out I could switch to psychology and still do whatever I wanted with biology and get done with my degree and get ready for the NFL," Okoye said. "It was all about finding balance and equilibrium."

The Texans' primary goal for its defense was to get more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Okoye has joined last year's No. 1 pick, defensive end Mario Williams, in doing just that. Each player has two sacks this season.

"I think starting in the preseason has helped out a lot and ever since then, every game I've been trying to get better," Okoye said. "I think I've done that."

Franklin says the Texans knew they were getting an outstanding talent.

"That's why we drafted him," Franklin said. "Rick Smith and coach (Gary) Kubiak and Richard Smith and the defensive staff, the scouting staff, we all were right on it. He has been so far up to what we expected."

Okoye gets a chance Sunday to play against Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts.

Sacking Manning would be a rookie highlight.

"Who in the world doesn't want to sack Peyton Manning as a defensive player, especially as a defensive lineman?" Okoye said. "He's an all-pro quarterback and probably going to go down as one of the best to ever play the game. It's a great feeling if you're able to get to him."

Football coaches get nervous at suggestions that a player has arrived. Franklin is even poetic.

"We have a ways to go before we sleep," Franklin said. "The woods are still dark and deep, far to go before we sleep. This is just two games. We have to continue to improve and get better. When the season's over, we'll look back on it and see how it all panned out and if we were successful or not."

Playing against the Colts for the first time is almost a homecoming for Okoye, who played across the state line in Kentucky for the Cardinals.

"Especially where I played in Louisville, which is not far from Indianapolis, I got to watch a lot of their games," Okoye said. "I thought in college, our college and Indianapolis' team were similar. Now that I get a chance to go against them, maybe that will help me out in a sense."

Okoye no longer allows his youth to bother him as he pushes ahead.

"There are times you feel all these other guys are older than me and if something's not going the right way you have a tendency to think it has to do with age," Okoye said. "I always try to not think that way because then things don't roll the way I want them to roll."

Franklin wants to make sure his young star is grounded.

"We still have a lot of football ahead of us and a lot to learn," Franklin said. "Each game is something different that we have to learn from and as long as we progress, the sky is the limit."

At least Okoye hasn't had to endure the scrutiny that faced Mario Williams, last year's top draft pick.

"That could turn on him (Okoye) too," Franklin said. "You're only as good as your last promise."

With that attitude, don't expect Okoye, let alone any other lineman on the Texans' defensive line, to get complacent any time soon.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Michael A. Lutz worked for The Associated Press for 38 years covering news and sports in Louisville, Ky. Dallas and Houston. Most of that time was spent in Houston covering the Oilers, Astros, Texans and other college and pro sports.

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