- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Brian Orakpo has yet to suit up or even sign a contract with his new team, but the Washington Redskins’ first-round draft pick already was flashing the savvy and preparation of a polished veteran.

During his official introduction at Redskin Park on Monday, Orakpo struck all the right chords. Belying his fierce on-field persona, he was humble, gracious and affable. And smart. The former Texas defensive end called Dan Snyder “the greatest owner in the NFL,” noting his “great charisma and great confidence.”

Considering that Snyder will pay his salary, which has yet to be negotiated, this can’t hurt. Orakpo, the No. 13 pick, also proclaimed Jim Zorn “one of the greatest coaches in the league right now.”

He knew the seating capacity of FedEx Field (“90-plus thousand”) and shouted out to future defensive cohorts Albert Haynesworth, London Fletcher and LaRon Landry.

“I could name them all,” he said.

Orakpo even acknowledged the legacies of former Redskins defensive ends Dexter Manley and Charles Mann.

Although he is too young to recall watching Manley and Mann play, the 23-year-old Orakpo said he learned about them because the nickname of his alma mater, Lamar High School in Houston, is the Redskins. He made sure to mention that he never was a Dallas Cowboys fan.

“I went from a Redskin to a Longhorn back to a Redskin,” he said. “My high school coach told me, once you’re a Redskin, you’re always a Redskin.”

Orakpo hasn’t signed with the Redskins just yet, but the organization expects the 6-foot-3, 263-pound consensus All-American and winner of several individual awards to start at left end and play some at outside linebacker. A self-proclaimed “freak” and “monster” for his strength, speed and agility, Orakpo dazzled scouts as a pass rusher. He had 11 1/2 sacks last season despite constant double-teaming and missing two games with a sprained ankle.

The Redskins said Orakpo was their highest-rated player available, and most of the draft assessments are enthusiastic. A few, however, call him a risk. His physical tools and production are self-evident, but he also showed flashes of inconsistency, and his abilities to stop the run and drop off in coverage as a linebacker need work.

No one, however, has questioned his character, work ethic and other so-called intangibles.

“We’re looking for men, period, and we’re looking for men with character,” Zorn said. “We’re looking for guys who care about this game. And you could tell Brian was one that cared about where he’s been. He cared about where he is now, and he really cares about where he’s going and understands the traditions of Redskins football.”

Accompanying Orakpo, who will wear No. 98, were several friends and family members, including aunt and uncle Ifeoma and Gordon Orakpo; his younger brother, Michael (a Colorado State football recruit); and younger sister, Jennifer. His parents, Arthur and Gloria, were visiting their native Nigeria on business.

“This is great. This is great,” Gordon Orakpo said. “It can’t be better than this. … Brian grew up. He trained hard, very hard. We saw him developing and eventually came to where he is today through hard work and good effort and actions.”

Orakpo’s parents immigrated to the United States from Nigeria with little money and attended Texas Southern University. Now, his mom owns a rehabilitation facility for the elderly. His dad is an auto dealer and is involved in real estate.

“Basically, he’s just a businessman,” Orakpo said. “If something doesn’t go right, he goes on to the next thing.”

Orakpo, who graduated in December with a degree in education, said the example set by his parents provided strong motivation and guidance while growing up.

“That’s the type of character I am,” he said. “A hard-working, dedicated guy that wants to be successful. And, you know, them migrating from Nigeria to Houston, raising three children, from a third-world country with nothing to a better opportunity in the United States lit a fire under me when I was raised and set the tone for my brother and sister. They showed me how to be successful, and now I can just keep passing the torch down the line.”

Orakpo has remained close to his heritage. He said he has visited Nigeria three times, including the summer before he enrolled at Texas. Light for a defensive end to begin with, he said he lost “considerable weight” during the trip, down to 210 pounds. But that fueled his dedication in the weight room.

“[The weight] wouldn’t come back,” he said. “So I just had to keep working harder and harder. That’s what made me redshirt and really get bigger and stronger and all the things I needed to be to be a successful defensive end.”

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